The main focus of the NFL draft every year is the class of the incoming quarterbacks. The most glorified position in football is the most difficult to judge from the collegiate level into the pros. Today’s game is a passing league and most of the teams that were short of playoff births, are looking to the draft every year for their next franchise leader.
Perspective of young quarterbacks have changed over time as expectations are much higher from the get go than they ever used to be. At one time, a rookie quarterback was given years to groom before getting an opportunity. Now rookie quarterbacks are being thrown into the fire from day one and are judged after just one season based on their performance.
Geno Smith was last years top rated quarterback heading into the draft, but was not selected until the second round. He was thrown into the fire from day one and had quite the roller coaster season. In 2005, Aaron Rodgers was selected by Green Bay near the first rounds end. Rodgers was on the bench groomed for years until his opportunity to rise past Brett Favre came about.
Expectations for what rookie quarterbacks should be able to do from the start should be mediated. This standard that everyone now holds rookies to is because of the success the 2012 rookie quarterback class had. Andrew Luck, RG3 and Russell Wilson were stars from week one while Ryan Tannehill looked solid during his season.
Just because a class outperforms the standard we are accustomed to does not mean the bar needs to be raised to near astronomical standards. The ’12 draft class was special and there has been mention of its strong potential to be in comparison with the ’83 draft class.
With these expectations raised, the pressure for the quarterbacks of the 2014 class is felt and everyone is trying to discover who that guy will be in this class. The ’14 class is filled with an interesting cast. There are your usual late risers, potential Heisman candidates and a star who everyone in the country is well aware of.
With all that being said, I have taken time to watch these quarterbacks in their games from the previous season. Even some of the prospects I have watched film previous to this last year. I have ranked the quarterbacks in the following order and some might find the rankings to be surprising because they aren’t of the norm.
1. Blake Bortles UCF QB
If you asked anyone who Blake Bortles was early during the college football season, only the students from Central Florida would be able to tell you. Most of those students would probably recognize him more as Lindsey Duke’s boyfriend rather than the starting quarterback for the university.
Bortles is that late riser we so often see when this draft process begins and it is with good reason. UCF shocked Louisville to get to a BCS game, where they then defeated Baylor to win the Fiesta Bowl. Bortles was on showcase for that BCS matchup and he showed some skill.
When I watch Bortles play, his style is so similar to what I saw out of Ben Roethlisberger when he played for Miami of Ohio. He absolutely looks the part of being a franchise quarterback; he stands at 6’4 and has the strongest arm of the top guys in this class. The game that showcased his talents the most was his game at Penn State against current Texans head coach Bill O”Brien.
As I watched Bortles games throughout the season, here are the things I like about him the most. His arm strength is on display as he can make the difficult distance throws from the opposite hash across the field. His running ability adds another threat to the offense and he is very smart and selective for when he chooses to do so.
His style of offense is more pro like; he is not running a spread offense where he is only taking snaps out of the shotgun. His overall mobility is impressive, especially when he throws on the run. He has the patience at times to get space so he can square up and other times he is able to throw running to the left side. His deep ball is more good than bad, but still needs just a bit more consistency.
The only issue I came to see consistently with Bortles through his games is his ball security. There are times where he is loose with the ball in the pocket and when on the run. His decision making at times is questionable as sometimes he tries to use that strong arm too much to thread a ball through an impossible window. Ball security is essential at the next level, but these are practices that can be taught.
2. Aaron Murray Georgia QB*
This ranking will come to be as the most shocking because Murray suffered a torn ACL toward the seasons end against Kentucky. Due to his injury, Murray has a 4th round grade, but watch this guy play football and you will realize he is not a fourth rounder.
Aaron Murray has been on my radar for years because I thought he was going to come out for last year’s draft. He was a four-year starter at Georgia and threw for over 3,000 yards every single season. When I re-watched his film from this past season, his games were the ones I enjoyed the most out of every other quarterback in this class.
When a quarterback is battle tested consistently and answers the bell that is something that cannot be overlooked. Murray had to bring his team back from large deficits throughout the season against SEC competition. Late in games, this guy is big time.
His faceoff against Zach Mettenberger was an epic SEC battle early in the season. Murray threw for 4 touchdowns and added a rushing touchdown to the total. The game was back and forth, but it was Murray who answered late with a touchdown pass less than two minutes left to win the game. This is not the first time Murray has gotten it done late in games.
Murray led a 75 yard drive late at Tennessee to tie the game up and force overtime. Georgia went on to win that match in overtime. The most notable comeback came against Auburn, who represented the SEC in the BCS National Championship game.
Auburn dominated the game and Georgia kept trying to sneak back into it. The Dogs were down by 20 points with over 9 minutes left and the comeback began. Murray finished the comeback when on 4th and goal he took it in himself to give his team a one-point lead. There was only just under two minutes left and the rest is history because everyone remembers the miracle Auburn Hail Mary.
Those are just samples of Murray’s ability to comeback late, which is a trait in the draft evaluation process that cannot be overlooked. This leads into the aspects of Murray’s game that I like.
His ability to run a two-minute offense at an efficient rate with a calm prescience is what makes him special. The Bulldogs offense is a pro style offense and has many different looks to it. Murray has a good arm to attack the tight windows in the middle of the field and can get it deep too.
Murray also has great mobility as he has made big time plays using his feet and is smart when outside the pocket. When he throws the ball, he knows how to use the right touch and at times knows when to put it on a rope.
When watching Murray’s game, there weren’t a lot of negatives I could point out that he consistently showed. I would have liked to see how he throws on the run more than he displayed, but he is a natural pocket passer. The only real negative he has is his ACL injury.
Some might see this as a very bold rating for Aaron Murray, but this guy has franchise quarterback written all over him. He is big time in the games clutch moments, can make all the throws and has four years experience vs. the SEC. If it weren’t for his injury, I would debate how he could very well be ranked at number one. He stands at 6’1, which is small, but when you watch his style of passing it reminds you of Drew Brees the way they launch the ball.
3. Derek Carr QB Fresno St.
Derek Carr, brother of former top pick David, is another case of a late riser. Carr has the look of a top quarterback with his size at 6’3 and has a strong arm just like Bortles. When I watched the Senior Bowl, Derek stood out to me the most among the other quarterbacks there. He looked very poised and comfortable running a senior bowl offense he had only been with for a week.
So after seeing his Senior Bowl performance, it was time to watch tape of him playing for Fresno State. He put up large numbers in the Fresno offense and some of the things I liked from watching him play were these.
Young quarterbacks in the NFL don’t struggle as much moving the chains in between the 20’s, its when they get to the red zone is where the difficulties begin. Carr displayed very good understanding and execution of the red zone offense when watching him play. He made good decisions and showed the ability to make the tough throw, including the touch fades to the back of the end zone.
Carr also has a good read on the defense when he gets to the line. When he knows his progressions, he knows how to move defenders with false eyesight. One play that stood out was a deep touchdown throw late in the game against Nevada. He recognized that the defense was only going to have a single high safety at pre snap. When he was in his back pedal, he looked off his primary target to drive the safety to the opposite side of the field. That led to an open receiver streaking down the field for the long touchdown.
Other positives I came away with watching Carr was his pocket awareness. He has a good feel for pressure and can still make the good short to intermediate throws while on the run escaping pressure. Carr also has an excellent feel for touch when throwing down the field.
Carr has potential to be a good NFL quarterback, but my only question is how he can translate his game to a different style of offense. The Fresno State offense ran a bunch of wide receiver and running back screens to the outside. His offense is not seen in the pros, which can be a concern, but the offense he ran in the Senior Bowl was different and he executed it well.
4. Johnny Manziel
The most polarizing college player we have seen enter the draft since Tim Tebow left the University of Florida, Johnny Manziel has all the hype entering May’s draft. The Heisman trophy winner as a freshman, Manziel has a different style of play that makes him a difficult prospect to evaluate going into the pros.
Manziel’s size is the biggest question mark where he stands just less than six feet tall. He is compared to Russell Wilson so often, but that comparison is not fair to me. Wilson was a much more polished passer in college and did it at two different colleges.
Manziel is more of a playmaker where in chaotic situations; he can make something out of nothing. We saw that most notably in his coming out party vs. Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
He is an exciting player to watch no doubt, but there are question marks with his game and how it will translate to the next level. Manziel is often criticized with his ability to throw within the pocket. A quarterback must be a pocket passer at the next level for a franchise to have great success. There are times where Manziel makes the situation more difficult for himself in the pocket then it needs to be.
His play in the bowl game vs. Duke is a highlight play where he leaps into the defender and bounces off to throw a dump pass for a touchdown. Amazing highlight reel play that will work in college, but not in the NFL. That play should have never happened because Manziel had his initial wide out wide open for an easy touchdown toss into the end zone. Instead, he created his own chaos to make another play.
This lapse in reading his proper progressions and making the right throw is something that comes up consistently in his game. That to go along with his short stature are the negatives when talking about Johnny Football, but there are many positives.
Playmaking is something you cannot teach and Manziel has the best playmaking ability in the draft. His ability to extend the play is an aspect he will need to carry over into the NFL to help him sustain success. When a play breaks down, he is the man you want to have the ball.
Johnny Football does have a much stronger arm than he is given credit for because he is able to make all the throws down field. He has a nice touch on the ball and also can step up and let it rip when needed. Sometimes his decision-making is questionable, but he has grown in making better decisions since his freshman year.
Johnny Manziel has the biggest upside and is the biggest risk and reward player in this draft. If he turns out to be a stud under center, he will be one of the games biggest stars and celebrities. He has the “IT” factor that no other quarterback prospect has in this draft. Manziel needs work in some aspects of his game, but he is worth taking a chance on at a certain point in the first round.
5. Teddy Bridgewater QB Louisville
Teddy Bridgewater entered the college season as a Heisman favorite after his stellar performance against Florida in the BCS bowl game the season before. Throughout the past year, he was the consensus number one quarterback and number one overall selection amongst the draft experts.
There are parts of Bridgewater’s game that I like and don’t like. He is considered the most “pro-ready” quarterback of this class because of the pro style of offense he ran at Louisville. Teddy throws the best on the run out of all the other prospects I watched. He has been able to make the short to intermediate throws on the run and even on occasion the deep balls.
Bridgewater has a very quick release when getting the ball out of his hands, so his mechanics are solid. He has good intangibles as well; he is known as a hard worker and very smart when running the offense.
The few things that bothered me the most when watching Bridgewater was his inability to throw a deep ball. He had inconsistency with his touch of the deep ball. Sometimes it was thrown at too high of a projection and other times it was underthrown on a rope. Most of the time when watching his failure to connect deep was with good pocket protection as well.
Critics say that Bridgewater is considered the most pro ready quarterback and I am not sure that is justified on film. He played in the American conference so the level of competition was never extreme. I never saw situations that forced him to come back and win games late with clutch plays. The deep ball inconsistencies bother me too much to be considered so pro ready.
Teddy’s pro day even made me question his ability even more. A pro day is a showcase where you know every throw your going to make because it is scripted with the coaching staff and receivers. Bridgewater looked rattled after he missed a few throws and it kept getting worse. He was not able to make good deep throws and even threw low balls on the run.
I don’t usually make too much of a big deal out of a pro day, but when a quarterback puts on a sluggish display in a t-shirt and shorts with no pressure, what will happen when defensive linemen are coming after him? That pro day performance slipped him down a spot below Manziel, who had a good pro day and even threw in pads.