2014 NFL Draft: How Top Quarterback Prospects Can Elevate Their Draft Stock

Ryan McCrystal@@ryan_mccrystalFeatured ColumnistJuly 16, 2013

2014 NFL Draft: How Top Quarterback Prospects Can Elevate Their Draft Stock

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    The top quarterback prospects in July are rarely the same group that ultimately emerges as the top prospects the following April. 

    Elite prospects can slip up and regress during their final collegiate season, while others elevate their game and emerge as late bloomers. 

    A solid group of prospects are positioned to make a run to be among the top quarterbacks off the board in the 2014 draft, but each has at least one significant question that must be answered during the 2013 season. 

    The following slideshow highlights eight of the top quarterbacks eligible to enter the 2014 draft and focuses on one question they must answer to give their stock a boost. 

Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville

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    To elevate draft stock: prove the Sugar Bowl was no fluke

    After cruising through a favorable Big East schedule, Teddy Bridgewater's draft stock received a significant boost when he picked apart the Florida defense in the 2013 Sugar Bowl. 

    But was it just one great game, or is he the real deal?

    Louisville doesn't have a single opponent on its schedule that was ranked in the final AP top 25 last season, which means near perfection will be expected of Bridgewater. 

    While the Cardinals' schedule certainly helps their chances of returning to a BCS bowl game, it won't do Bridgewater any favors. A few rough games against the likes of Memphis, Houston or South Florida could cause Bridgewater's stock to plummet. 

Tajh Boyd, Clemson

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    To elevate draft stock: continue developing poise within the pocket

    Tajh Boyd's combination of arm strength and athleticism gives him the potential to be the next Robert Griffin III. But much like RG3 entering his final season at Baylor, Boyd needs to refine his skills within the pocket.  

    During his time at Clemson, Boyd has taken a pounding, both inside and outside the pocket. He's demonstrated impressive toughness, but it has also give him happy feet at the sound of approaching footsteps. 

    Boyd needs to show he can stand tall in the pocket and maintain his composure and mechanics in the face of pressure. 

    If Boyd can add an elite pocket presence to his already impressive playmaking skills outside the pocket, the sky is the limit for his potential. 

A.J. McCarron, Alabama

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    To elevate draft stock: demonstrate ability to challenge down the field

    For the past two seasons, A.J. McCarron has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in college football. But rarely has he been asked to put the Crimson Tide on his back and carry them to victory. 

    Much like his predecessors under Nick Saban at Alabama, John Parker Wilson and Greg McElroy, McCarron possesses the leadership and intelligence of an NFL quarterback. But does he have the raw tools necessary to develop into a quality starter?

    Saban likes to win with a strong running game and a dominant defense, so McCarron's chances to prove his potential will be few and far between. But when those opportunities arise, McCarron needs to take full advantage. 

    If McCarron can prove he has the ability to consistently stretch the field with his arm strength and deep accuracy, he could emerge as one of the top quarterback prospects Saban has produced. 

David Fales, San Jose State

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    To elevate draft stock: develop poise and patience 

    David Fales is one of the most entertaining prospects to watch, and he has drawn comparisons to Brett Favre due to the tenacity with which he plays the game. 

    However, Fales also possesses many of the same attributes that occasionally led to Favre's failures. 

    At this stage of his career, a more realistic comparison for Fales may be J.P. Losman—an exciting athlete who never harnessed his raw tools. 

    Fales plays as though his jersey is on fire, which leads to highlight-reel plays but also missed opportunities. The friendly defenses of the WAC allowed Fales to succeed despite his lack of patience, but NFL defenses will feast on his inability to remain cool and collected under pressure. 

    In order to be viewed as anything more than a developmental prospect, Fales must demonstrate the ability to stand tall in the pocket and make good, safe decisions in the face of pressure. 

Derek Carr, Fresno State

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    To elevate draft stock: stay cool under pressure

    If Derek Carr can't handle the pressure of Mountain West defenses, he won't be long for the NFL.

    Carr has all of the physical tools to excel at the next level, and he even has the clean, quick mechanics to play well under pressure. However, Carr is easily flustered when the pocket begins to collapse and it leads to ill-advised throws down the field. 

    To boost his stock, Carr simply needs to let the game slow down for him. Typically this improves with experience, and as Carr enters his third year as the Bulldogs' starter, there's reason to believe he could take the next step and emerge as a strong prospect prior to the 2014 draft. 

Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech

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    To elevate draft stock: develop ability to react to post-snap defensive adjustments

    From a pure talent standpoint, Logan Thomas ranks among the elite prospects in the 2014 NFL draft class. Thomas' size, athleticism and arm strength put him in rare territory with the likes of Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Newton. 

    These raw skills allowed Thomas to immediately make an impact in the ACC as a sophomore in 2011. But the 2012 season was a rough one for Thomas, as opposing defensive coordinators caught on to his weaknesses.

    Thomas can pick apart lesser competition, but the veteran defenses the Hokies faced in 2012 found success by disguising their coverages and blitzes and confusing Thomas with last-second adjustments.

    How Thomas improves in 2013 will play a significant role in determining his draft stock. If he can learn from his mistakes and improve his reaction time and decision-making skills to these post-snap defensive adjustments, it will speak volumes about his intelligence and ability to develop the mental aspect of the quarterback position. 

    However, if Thomas continues to struggle with the mental side of the game during his senior year, it could be the final nail in the coffin of his draft stock and drop him into the later rounds of the draft.

Aaron Murray, Georgia

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    To elevate draft stock: improve decision making and timing

    In terms of physical tools, Aaron Murray isn't anything special. He possesses enough arm strength, accuracy and athleticism to play at the next level but doesn't stand out in any one area. 

    As a result, Murray needs to make up for his modest physical traits by excelling in the mental side of the game. 

    Playing in the SEC has given Murray the opportunity to see some of the most complex defenses the college game has to offer, but he's still learning how to make the in-game adjustments necessary to excel. Murray still gets flustered under pressure, and it leads to poor decisions. 

    With another year under his belt, the game may begin to slow down for Murray. If his decision-making skills improve and he cuts down on the rushed throws into coverage, his stock could begin to climb during the 2013 season.

Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

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    To elevate draft stock: improve quick decision-making skills within pocket

    Johnny Manziel is a magician on the football field, and it would be foolish to question his ability to make quick decisions on the fly. 

    However, in the NFL, an elite quarterback can read the defense—both pre- and post-snap—and turn that mental side of the game into quick-strike plays that wear the defense down. 

    While few quarterbacks have ever dominated the game once the play breaks down the way Johnny Football did in 2012, many of those highlight reel plays were made possible due to his inability to see the play develop from the pocket. 

    The ability to ad-lib only gets you so far in the NFL, and even the most dynamic college quarterbacks have failed at the next level if they were unable to develop the elite decision-making skills within the pocket that sets the great ones apart.