2014 NFL Draft Prospects: Quarterbacks
The Quarterback Class of '13 was doomed from the start.
It was inevitable and unfortunate that they would face direct comparison to the QB crop that directly preceded them, that they would have to live up to the unreasonable and unreachable standards set by an unprecedented collection of productive rookies: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden. And that doesn't even count Colin Kaepernick, a second-year pro who took the 49ers to the Super Bowl in his first few months as their starter.
To add exalt to injury, the days leading up to the 2013 Draft were filled with glorious reflections on the Greatest Quarterback Draft Ever. A year-old shadow and the 30-year-old spectre of John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino . . . what more could Geno Smith and Matt Barkley and Ryan Nassib have to contend with on the first night of the rest of their careers?
Oh yeah . . . their own shortcomings as pro prospects. Only one quarterback wound up being deemed worthy of a first-round pick, and Buffalo traded down to No. 16 to take E.J. Manuel, anointing him the least unready of the bunch.
Unlucky '13, indeed.
Which is something next year's quarterback class will not have to worry about. If the performance of the 2013 rookies is as underwhelming as their entrance into the league, the NFL will be delirious for the delivery of shiny new quarterback prospects next April. These guys almost can't help but compare favorably. Here's our first look at the top 10 quarterbacks expected to be available for the 2014 NFL Draft.
1. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
6-foot-3, 218 pounds
2012 season: 287-419, 68.5%, 3,718 yds., 27 TDs, 8 INTs
There is no disputing Bridgewater’s athleticism, but please don’t mistake him for a running quarterback. In 2012, he was credited with 74 rushing attempts – only eight more than Geno Smith, who was universally chided for being unwilling to run the football. Yes, when Bridgewater is forced to run, he does so effectively and flashes great speed. But he’s no one-read-and-run guy; this is a quarterback who uses his ridiculously quick feet to stay alive under pressure long enough to find somewhere to throw the football. His eyes are constantly downfield, even under a rush, always looking for an open receiver. Bridgewater is comfortable with his progressions, is willing to take the checkdown throw when he must, and seems not to make bad decisions where to go with the ball. He doesn’t force throws, though an arm like that might tempt other quarterbacks to do so. Bridgewater is highly accurate on most routes, even throws he makes on the run. He runs a pro-style offense, manages a steady mix of personnel and formations, and has all the tools the NFL looks for in a passer. The athleticism and, yes, the threat to run the football is gravy.
2. Aaron Murray, Georgia
2012 season: 249-386, 64.5%, 3,893 yds., 36 TDs, 10 INT
There is so much to like about a classic pocket passer like Murray. He does the important things well – like reading defenses, making good decisions (for the most part) and delivering a catchable ball with accuracy and velocity. He does so many of the little things well – like selling the play fake or scrambling to avoid pressure. He runs a pro-style system and wins ballgames . . . what’s not to like about Murray, especially after he made the right decision and went back to school for his senior season? Well, there are two things the NFL is concerned about, and both are valid. First, he has shown a tendency to force throws in big spots. There isn’t a throw Murray can’t make, but sometimes he forgets there are throws he shouldn’t make. That’s something he can change people’s minds about in 2013. But there’s one thing he can’t correct – his size. Murray is shorter and leaner than is ideal for an NFL quarterback. Drew Brees is amazing at knowing where the throwing windows will be; Russell Wilson moves the pocket to negate his height disadvantage. It’s not going to keep Murray out of the NFL, but it could keep him out of the first round of the 2014 draft.
3. Tajh Boyd, Clemson
2012 season: 287-427, 67.2%, 3,896 yds., 36 TDs, 13 INTs; 514 rush. yds., 10 rush. TDs
You want to find the top true dual-threat QB in the 2014 draft? It’s Boyd, who is as confident and capable a runner as he is a passer. Again, that doesn’t mean he’s a run-first quarterback. He’ll run the quarterback draw and the read option, and turn broken plays into big ones. But Boyd is, first and foremost, an NFL-caliber passer. You don’t flirt with the 4,000-yard, 40-TD thresholds if you’re looking to tuck the ball and take off. Boyd has the arm strength and accuracy to make every throw in the book and is especially impressive on the deep ball (having had Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins as targets has to help). Like Murray, his height may scare off some (it may be more of a disadvantage for a pocket passer like Murray). But some NFL team looking to install elements of the Pistol offense will take a chance on Boyd and the versatility he brings to the table.
4. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
2012 season: 220-429, 2,976, 18 TDs, 51.3%, 524 rush. yds., 9 rush. TDs
Maybe Thomas was right in the first place. When he first came to Blacksburg, he said he’d always pictured himself as a receiver, not a quarterback. Rivals.com ranked him as the No. 1 tight end prospect in the Class of 2009. But Thomas was too promising a quarterback, and his sophomore season in 2011 had him ticketed for the top of the 2013 NFL Draft. Then he struggled as a junior. Big time . . . which is a strange thing to say about a guy who set the school’s single-season record for total yards (3,500). He still ran the ball with confidence, but Thomas never looked comfortable as a passer. His TD-to-INT ratio (18-16) was inexcusable, and his completion percentage (51.3%) was unthinkable. And yet . . . he looked so effective two years ago, it’s not unreasonable to project the biggest of bounce-back seasons (the three picks he threw in Tech’s spring game notwithstanding). What he shows NFL scouts about handling the adversity will go a long way to determining where he goes in the 2014 draft. And whether he’s drafted as a quarterback or a tight end.
5. A.J. McCarron, Alabama
2012 season: 211-314, 67.2%, 2,933 yds., 30 TDs, 3 INTs, 175.3 efficiency rating (tops in nation)
There is a way to calculate passer efficiency rating, but it involves algebra and calculus and quantum physics and perhaps some creative accounting, and we’re not going to get into that here. Convoluted formula aside, you can’t deny what the passer efficiency rating is designed to show. And McCarron was the best in the business last year. A big part of the equation is that he completes his passes and doesn’t turn the ball over (at one point, he’d gone 291 attempts between the 2011 and 2012 seasons without throwing an interception). And the kid wins football games; he’s 24-2 with two BCS championships in his two seasons as Alabama’s starter. Now, that could just mean he’s a heck of a college quarterback, like Kellen Moore and Colt McCoy and Matt Leinart were before him. He plays behind an offensive line of eventual NFL starters and hands off the ball (frequently) to future pro running backs. McCarron is rarely asked to win a close game late, or even bring his team back from a deficit. But his mechanics are sound, he makes the right decisions, and he’s accurate. You don't need a calculator to see that.
6. Stephen Morris, Miami
2012 season: 245-421, 58.2%, 3,345 yds., 21 TDs
The best arm in the bunch may belong to Stephen Morris. He is not afraid to attack defenses down the field, and that big-play potential will open some eyes during his senior season. He racked up 3,415 total yards in his first season as starter, a school record. When you break records at a school where Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde played (and where Gino Torretta once won the Heisman), you’ve had a pretty good season. Morris flourished under Miami offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, who left to take the same job with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Reportedly, new coordinator James Coley is planning to use a lot of the same play-calling terminology as last year, so the transition shouldn’t steepen Morris’ learning curve or hinder his development. With 10 offensive starters returning – including his entire offensive line – and an explosive running back in Duke Johnson to keep defenses guessing, Morris appears positioned for a huge breakout season.
7. David Fales, San Jose State
2012 season: 327-451, 72.5% (led nation), 33 TDs, 9 INTs
Fales hasn’t thrown a pass since the fourth quarter of San Jose State’s Military Bowl victory over Bowling Green back in December. Yet, somehow his stock is rocketing up mock draft boards this spring. It could be that people are turning away from the 2012 bummer crop of quarterbacks and looking for anything to get excited and optimistic about for next year. Maybe they stumbled upon a guy who they discovered completed 72.5 percent of his passes, threw for 33 touchdowns and nearly 4,200 yards, and became immediately intrigued. The buzz feels a little like Fales is everyone’s wise-guy pick in the Derby, so everyone can say they spotted him first. Still, the attention is not entirely undeserved. Fales shows tremendous patience and presence, standing in the pocket under pressure, waiting as long as he can before having to make his throw. He has a quick release and a strong arm, able to deliver a ball on the money on the run or even when he’s unable to step into his throw. But his numbers do seem the result of a short passing-centric approach, one that encourages high percentage throws and a lot of YAC. Fales improved dramatically over the course of 2012, his first FBS season. If he continues to develop and prove he can make the intermediate and deep throws, he will validate a lot of this early excitement. And then remember . . . you read about him here first.
8. Derek Carr, Fresno State
2012 season: 344-511, 67.3%, 4,104 yds., 37 TDs, 7 INTs
With another season like he had in 2012, Carr would finish his college career with 11,000 yards passing and 100 touchdowns.You have the chance to put up impressive numbers like that when you throw the ball 500 times a year. But prolific stats don’t tell Carr’s complete story. When all is well, he makes good decisions and shows the arm and release and footwork of an NFL quarterback. When he’s under pressure, as he was during an SMU siege in the Hawaii Bowl, his mechanics can break down. He’ll throw off his back foot more than you’d like to see, and his throws will sail when he’s feeling rushed. You can’t blame him if he suffers from first-degree second-hand gun-shyness; his brother, David, was sacked 78 times as a rookie with the expansion Texans, and has been bagged more than 250 times in his NFL career. Like his brother, Carr isn’t particularly elusive; fortunately, Fresno State’s spread offense does allow him the chance to get rid of the ball in a hurry.
9. Bryn Renner, North Carolina
2012 season: 276-422, 65.4%, 3,356 yds., 28 TDs, 7 INTs
Renner enters his third year as the Tar Heels starter with back-to-back 3,000-yard seasons on his resume. And yet he seems to be an afterthought of a prospect. He runs an offensive system that likes to press the pace, and he’s been given a lot of latitude to change plays at the line of scrimmage after getting a first read of the defense. He’s not flashy, he’s not going to rip off a highlight reel run. He just makes the right throw to the right receiver. That may sound like a really nice way to call a quarterback a “game manager,” but Renner may turn out to be more than that.
10a. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
2012 season: 295-434, 68.0%, 3,706 yds., 26 TDs, 9 INTs, 1,410 rush. yds., 21 rush. TDs, won the Heisman Trophy
10b. Braxton Miller, Ohio State
2012 season: 148-254, 58.3%, 2,039 yds., 15 TDs, 6 INTs, 1,271 rush. yds., 13 rush. TDs
This should not be misconstrued as disrespect for two of college football’s most exciting players. But these two underclassmen really should plan on staying in school until the 2015 NFL Draft, when they'll have had a lttle more time to develop the NFL skill set. Manziel could enjoy one of college football’s truly iconic careers, where multiple Heismans are a distinct possibility. Whereas Manziel is a magician, Miller is more of a missile. To see him run with the football, breaking ankles all over the defense, is like watching other run-around quarterbacks on fast forward. But these two both need to develop as pass-first quarterbacks if they want to get a shot at running an NFL offense. They both have NFL arms; they simply need more time in the role to learn how to read defenses and recognize coverages. Yes, they could probably both step in and run a Pistol package tomorrow. But they have to learn the passing answers to the challenging situations they will face in the future, that running shouldn’t be the default option. Carrying the ball so often in college gets you highlights and Heismans; in the NFL, it gets you hammered and hurt.