With the NFL Draft season in full swing, scouts, both professional and not, are fully immersing themselves in researching the players eligible in May’s big event. Tape is being watch, analysis is being typed up, and opinions are being discussed. We, here at fakepigskin.com, are no different, and we will begin a position-by-position look at the draft, starting with the most important position on the field, quarterback. This year’s class is talented, but divisive, with as many different opinions as there are scouts watching them. Here is one writer’s look at the 2014 quarterback class, the the order I have ranked them, and where they might get drafted, as well as where they should get drafted.
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Positives: Bridgewater is clearly the best quarterback in the class, and maybe the only one ready to start right away in the NFL. An athletic 6’2”, height isn’t a problem, and he moves well enough in the pocket to avoid struggles seeing the field. His vision is excellent as well, as he goes through his progressions, usually finding the open receiver. Another plus is his decision-making. He doesn’t make many mistakes, and avoids forcing throws that shouldn’t be made. He also throws with good velocity and gets the ball out quickly, which allows him to fit the ball into tight windows. When things break down, his ability to scramble adds another element to his game. He can escape and make a big play, but is a thrower first, and a runner second.
Negatives: His sleight build (just over 200 lbs) may not affect his draft position, but it will be something teams look at. Nobody wants to draft a franchise quarterback that can’t stay healthy. As far as his ability goes, the one area that could use refining is his deep ball. He has nice touch, but he doesn’t have the rocket arm that teams crave. He will underthrow his receiver at times on long passes. Some might also think he’s a little too laid back, making him seem emotionless. He’s not a fiery leader.
Outlook: Bridgewater is the most polished quarterback in this class and could be the kind of player that turns a franchise around. He should be the first quarterback selected, and with the Houston Texans sitting atop the draft, he will be the number one overall pick in the draft.
Blake Bortles, Central Florida
Positives: There might not be a faster rising quarterback than Bortles, who has played his way from a mid-major unknown to a top five prospect in a single year. At 6’3” and 230 lbs, he certainly looks the part. He has a big arm and presence to match. Like Bridgewater, he can make plays with his feet, but is just as comfortable in the pocket. He uses his live arm effectively, throwing with tremendous velocity, putting the ball where it needs to be. He’s the unquestioned leader of his team and is used to being in charge. He’s the kind of guy teammates will sell themselves out for. His ceiling is sky-high.
Negatives: Sometimes, especially when going down the field, Bortles locks on and fails to take the safety into account resulting in a deep interception. Also, while he has a good arm for going deep, he still needs to improve his throws where touch is needed. Like many running college quarterbacks, he needs to improve on going through his reads before either forcing a ball, or taking off.
Outlook: He might not be as ready for primetime as Bridgewater, but his ceiling may be higher. His talent is such that he should be a top five lock. The Oakland Raiders pick fifth and are still searching for a quarterback that can get them back to winning ways. Bortles could be that guy.
Derek Carr, Fresno State
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Positives: A lot of people are underestimating Carr, who had an amazing 2013 season. To many he is still David Carr’s little brother, but the younger version shouldn’t be judged on the older’s history. Derek, first off, has the look of a professional quarterback at 6’2” and 215 lbs. He also has an NFL-ready arm, with an ability to get the ball deep without a lot of effort. He’s also a smart player, possessing the ability to diagnose defenses pre-snap and adjust the call accordingly, something that puts him ahead of most. He is accurate with the ball and able to put the ball exactly where he wants it. He also shows an ability to not only sling it, but use touch to drop in passes when needed.
Negatives: There were mechanical questions coming into the season, though he has cleared up the biggest ones. Under pressure, he sometimes reverts a little, and either throws from his back foot, or hurries himself. There’s also a question of system, since he played out of the shotgun and primarily threw screens and short passes.
Outlook: Carr could develop into an elite NFL quarterback. There is an element of projection involved, as teams will have to have faith that he can consistently do what he didn’t have to do much in college. He should be a top ten pick, but if the Minnesota Vikings pass on him, he could fall in the later part of round one.
Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
Positives: The first thing that stands out when watching Garoppolo play is his lightning-fast delivery of the football. From the time he sets to throw to the time the ball leaves is hand is measured in nano-seconds. This ultra-quick throwing motion generates above average velocity behind his throws and he’s accurate enough to put it to good use. He is able to make all the throws and make them effectively. He’s not a speedster, but he’s elusive in the pocket, and able to escape pressure more often than not. Poise is another positive attribute. He never seems to panic, and sets his feet to throw, even when under the gun. His knack for keeping plays alive and his eyes downfield will serve him well on Sundays.
Negatives: His arm strength is good, but not great. He won’t wow teams with deep throws. There will be natural questions about the competition he faced as well, playing for an FCS team. He hasn’t faced the kind of talent he’ll see at the next level, though his play at the college all-star games should help in that respect.
Outlook: There’s certainly a lot to like with Garoppolo. He has a lot of the qualities NFL teams look for, but there will be questions. He should be taken early in the second round, but may fall to the latter part of that round.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Positives: There isn’t a more exciting player in all of college football than Johnny Football. He followed up a Heisman-winning 2012 with another great year in 2013 and is still the talk of the draft. Manziel’s top attribute, is his athleticism and ability to use his feet to make plays. He’s slippery in the pocket and hard to get a grasp on, and fast enough that once he gets out of the pocket, good things happen. He also is a very good thrower while moving in either direction. His pocket awareness is also NFL-level. As a passer, he has good, but not great, arm strength, and can get the ball down the field. He’s also a great leader, and passionate. Guys will play for him.
Negatives: Manziel comes from a system where he was often asked to just make one read, then run. He’ll need to learn to be a passer first. His mechanics often suffer when he’s under pressure, and he’ll throw off his back foot, leading to drifting passes. His size has also been questioned, both in height, and in his ability to take hits. His playing style lends itself to take a lot of contact, but his body may not be able to absorb the kind of punishment NFL linebackers can deliver. There are maturity issues as well, and his interviews will be important.
Outlook: People either love Manziel or hate him. There’s no questioning his athleticism, but his college exploits have blinded some people to his flaws. If his name weren’t Johnny Football, he’d be a second round pick. He’s likely to go to the Cleveland Browns as the number four overall pick.
Zach Mettenberger, LSU
Positives: Mettenberger, more than anyone, looks like the classic drop-back quarterback. Standing at 6’5” and 235 lbs, he’s physically ready. As one would expect, he also has an NFL-ready arm to go with his stature. He can make all the throws a team needs. His deep ball is a potent weapon that puts him above most other quarterbacks. He does a good job of making reads and going through progressions. He does an above average job of keeping himself upright long enough, even under pressure, to get off a pass, and avoiding the sack.
Negatives: In contrast to most of the modern quarterbacks, Mettenberger is a bit of a statue in the pocket. He’ll need a solid offensive line in the NFL to keep him on his feet. Once he’s forced from the pocket, he doesn’t move quickly. Sometimes, he puts too much heat on passes that don’t need it and makes it hard on his receivers. He also doesn’t have the quick release that the quarterbacks ahead of him have. Teams will also be paying close attention to medical checks, since he’s coming off of a knee injury. He’ll need to prove he’s progressing in his recovery.
Outlook: His size and strength will keep him as a viable option for teams early in the draft. He should be selected sometime in round two, but injury could push him down into round three, especially if his knee is behind schedule at all.
David Fales, San Jose State
Positives: Fales is a savvy player, who will bring intelligence and experience to the NFL. Pre-snap, he excels in reading defenses and setting up the offense to counteract it. Once the ball is in play, he is comfortable in the pocket, and knows what to do. His footwork is good, and his decision-making is very good as well. Though he’s not an escape artist like Manziel, he is quick enough to elude defenders and get positive yardage. He rarely makes the big, game-changing mistake, using his accuracy and quick throwing motion to make the right throw. His arm is good enough, and while he can’t make every throw, he can make most.
Negatives: His arm is adequate, but isn’t great. He may have issues with the homerun ball in the NFL. This may also result in issues with out routes and intermediate sideline routes as well. He can be inconsistent with his footwork at times, especially under pressure. Also, while he’s not short by any means, he’s also not tall, and may not be fast enough to get himself into the optimum position to get into passing lanes.
Outlook: Fales might not be seen as a franchise quarterback by a lot of teams, but he does have a lot of the characteristics of one. He should be selected by the end of round three, and will probably fall in that range, if not a little higher.
Brett Smith, Wyoming
Positives: Like Manziel, athleticism is the hallmark of Wyoming’s star quarterback. He is slippery in the pocket and has that extra gear when he gets out of it. At a solid 6’2”, he’s tall enough, though he does have a thin build. When he’s standing in the pocket, he does possess the ability to go through his progressions and find the open receiver. When his mechanics are sound, he can make any throw on the field. He has a pretty quick release as well.
Negatives: Smith has a tendency to forget his mechanics when the pocket heats up, particularly with his footwork. He’ll either seek to flee, or he’ll make a bad throw as a result of hurrying too much. Overall, his accuracy if fine, but he will go through stretches where he struggles badly with long throws. Tends to rely on his arm too much at times, and will force the ball into a place it just won’t fit. His slim body may give pause to some, but he has worked to add weight and strength.
Outlook: Right now, Smith is still more athlete than quarterback, and probably should have returned for his Senior season in college. With good workouts, he could work himself into the late third round of the draft, but may not be taken until round four as a project-type player.
AJ McCarron, Alabama
Positives: It’s easy to tag players with the dreaded “winner” label, but McCarron does know how to win games. He certainly had a load of talent around him at Alabama, but they don’t win the number of games they did without good quarterback play. At 6’4” he sees the field well, and has no trouble getting the ball out. His arm strength is good, and he can make most NFL throws. He also has a nice delivery and relatively quick release. He doesn’t throw a lot of interceptions and generally makes pretty good decisions with the ball. He manages the game well.
Negatives: While McCarron’s arm wouldn’t be classified as weak, it’s not strong either, and he has struggled with underthrows. A lot of his impressive numbers is due to a great scheme, and a dominant offensive line in front of him. Wins are often pointed to, but he had the benefit of not having to win many games on his own. His presence in the pocket is iffy at times, and he’s prone to panicky moments when pressure gets to him.
Outlook: McCarron has some nice qualities, and could have a long career, even if as a backup quarterback. He should go in round three or four, but with his resume, he might get a team to take him a little earlier.
Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
Positives: On the surface, Thomas looks like a great NFL quarterback in waiting. He’s huge at 6”6” and 250 lbs, with a big arm and enough athleticism to make him a dual-threat weapon. He flashes just enough potential to keep him intriguing to NFL teams. Technically speaking, he can make all the throws needed and then some. When his mechanics are right, he’s pretty accurate as well. His size makes him hard to bring down, and his ability to keep plays alive or to scramble out of the pocket will aid him at the next level.
Negatives: This season was a disaster for Thomas. He was inconsistent all season and he lost a lot of momentum in draft circles. He particularly suffered in terms of pocket awareness. For a man of his stature, he took a lot of sacks, and took too many hits because he didn’t feel the pressure coming. Accuracy is also an issue, as he completed just 56% of his passes for his career. Footwork is the primary driver behind his questionable accuracy.
Outlook: Thomas is intriguing. He could become a terrific NFL quarterback, but he could just as easily be out of the league in a few years. He should be a fourth round draft pick, based solely on potential, but his physical tools could get a team to take a shot as early as round two.