The 2015 NFL Draft is a long way off, but with the college football season underway, it’s never too early to start looking ahead at the stars of tomorrow. Next year’s selection process could feature an exciting field of talented players, especially at the quarterback position, depending on who decides to enter the draft early. Senior Bryce Petty could be joined by underclassmen Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, and Jameis Winston in vying for spots at the top of the draft. There are other names that could play a role in the early rounds as well.
One week into the season might be a bit early to name a winner in the battle of 2015 quarterback prospects, but the first game signals the start of a season-long process that NFL GMs, as well as the fans of the quarterback needy teams will be following all year. Here’s how five of the top prospects stack up after game one of the 2014 college football season.
Marcus Mariota: Oregon destroyed South Dakota to open the season, and Mariota started on a high note. He completed 14 of 20 passes for 267 yards and four touchdowns, while looking confident, comfortable, and ready to state his case. Though some argue that the Ducks offense deserves much of the credit, Mariota has proven to be an accurate thrower, but one who can put zip on it with the best of them. The early front-runner for the top quarterback spot is also a threat with his feet. His combination of athleticism and arm talent has him at the top of any wish list for an NFL team. His first performance of the season was just another example of why.
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Jameis Winston: After his clutch performance in leading Florida State to the National Championship last season, Winston came into 2014 with high expectations. His first game of the season might not have lived up to that lofty billing, but he certainly showed flashes of what he can do. A couple of interceptions and some inconsistent play marred this season’s debut, but he did enough to get the Seminoles to a victory, and showed the kind of heart he did last year. Winston has scouts drooling with his potential at the next level. At 6’4” and 235 lbs, with terrific presence and athleticism to spare, he certainly looks the part of a star quarterback. He also possesses all the necessary arm strength and pocket awareness to be successful. He didn’t get off to the start he wanted, but barring a disaster, he’ll be highly sought after by NFL teams.
Brett Hundley: Many thought Hundley would enter 2014’s NFL Draft, but he wisely chose to return and refine his game. The hugely talented quarterback hopes that game one isn’t an indication of how the rest of the season will go. UCLA struggled to move the ball, and had to rely on its defense to win against the Virginia Cavaliers. Hundley was under fire for most of the game, and didn’t respond as well as fans would have liked. He did, however, post the offenses only touchdown, with a six yard scramble in the third quarter. Hundley has the requisite arm strength and accuracy, but has shown issues with the pass rush. He needs more time to mature as a pocket passer, and in his ability to anticipate. There’s no doubting his talent, but he has some questions still to answer after a lackluster start to the year.
Bryce Petty: Another top quarterback prospect whose season premiere didn’t go as planned was Baylor’s Bryce Petty. Petty had an excellent first half, posting a rushing touchdown to go with the two he added through the air. However, he suffered a back injury that forced him out of the game. It should be noted that he doesn’t plan to miss any action with the injury, but NFL teams will keep an eye on it. Petty’s arm talent is on par with any quarterback in the country, and he is big and athletic enough to be successful at any level. However, he gets knocked for playing in an offense that inflates his numbers, and leaves scouts wondering if he can play under center in an NFL offense. If his 2014 numbers match his 2013 output, and he has no lingering medical issues, he could find himself inching up draft boards as the process moves along.
Sean Mannion: Another Pac-12 quarterback who could figure into the early round mix next year, Mannion opened the season with a solid outing, throwing for 328 yards and a score in a victory. More of a pocket passer than the others on this list, the senior relies on his intelligence and decision-making to put points on the board. He does have an NFL-ready arm and a strong understanding of a pro-style offense. If he can clear up a few mechanical issues, and continue to develop, he will get more and more attention from NFL scouts.