The end of the NFL regular season is imminent, and shortly thereafter, the order for the 2014 draft will be determined.
Among the prospective crop of prospects are some intriguing quarterback options that teams at the top in search of a long-term answer under center will have to take into strong consideration in the first round.
Two of the following three collegiate stars are underclassmen and could decide to not make the leap to the pros, but given their promising upside, they seem likely to take their games to the next level.
Here is a closer look at the top college quarterbacks whose skills should translate best to the NFL gridiron—and give several franchises a huge boost at the sport's most important position.
1. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
The junior signal-caller has seen a steady progression in his three years with the Cardinals, raising his completion percentage (70.2) and yards per attempt (9.22) to new personal bests in 2013.
Bridgewater has thrown just four interceptions to go with 28 touchdowns, and although he rarely takes off to run, he is an exceptional athlete with overlooked mobility.
A potential knock on Bridgewater is his lack of a thick frame at 6'3" and only 196 pounds, but he has a good enough savvy in the pocket to avoid huge hits on a consistent basis and has the requisite arm strength to make all the throws.
ESPN expert Todd McShay praised Bridgewater's consistency in his most recent evaluation (subscription required):
Bridgewater is poised, smart, a consistent player and leader, and is the guy most regularly making NFL throws with timing and anticipation. He has a good blend of arm strength to drive the ball into tight windows, and the sense of when to take some heat off the ball. He's very catchable. He has good poise and increased polish. He moves his eyes quickly and often scans the whole field. When he sees a target, he has a quick release, plenty of arm strength, and good ball placement.
After the huge hit he took in the beginning of last year's Sugar Bowl against Florida, Bridgewater showcased his poise and leadership in guiding the Cardinals to a landmark 33-23 victory in facing one of the premier defenses in the country.
Then there was this scoring play from Louisville's 31-24 overtime win over Cincinnati that encompassed the potential that Bridgewater contains:
Level of competition is a slight concern, but there are few areas in which Bridgewater can be docked in an overall evaluation.
With sound mechanics, exceptional accuracy and field vision, there is a great chance that the highly polished Bridgewater is the first quarterback off the board on draft day.
2. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
On Wednesday, Johnny Football explained that he would take a couple more weeks before the Aggies matchup with Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl to make his decision on whether or not to go pro.
However, Manziel did indicate he felt he was ready to leave College Station, per TexAgs.com's Gabe Brock:
Manziel: I'll sit down in the next few weeks and talk to [my mentors and coaches] to see if I'm ready for the NFL. In my mind, I am ready.— Gabe Bock (@TexAgsRadio) December 12, 2013
There is little reason to doubt Manziel after he's put together two amazing seasons, beginning with his explosion onto the scene as a freshman when he won the Heisman Trophy.
Although he likely won't take home the accolade again this year, there was still marked improvement in Manziel's play from the pocket that bolsters his NFL profile.
Manziel struggled in his most recent two games, but he has still accounted for 41 total touchdowns in 2013, despite being complemented by a putrid Texas A&M defense.
Few players in recent memory have the scrambling and improvisational skills that Manziel possesses, but he has proven capable of scanning the field and making secondary reads, rather than seeking out his first option and running if it isn't open.
For a QB with a less than ideal build (6'1", 210 pounds), Manziel has displayed stellar accuracy on deep passes and a live arm, and he has an uncanny ability to throw on the run—even to the left, against the grain.
If Manziel can become more consistent with his footwork and continue honing his craft from the pocket, there's no reason he can't thrive in the NFL.
The read-option concept has diminished a bit in the pros this year, yet that is another dangerous dimension Johnny Football brings to the table that should entice teams to take him early.
With all the adversity he faced in a controversial offseason, how well he's performed and the exuberance he displays, the intangibles are there for Manziel to handle the scrutiny that will accompany him too.
3. Derek Carr, Fresno State
Who should be the first QB selected in the 2014 NFL draft?
Unlike the signal-callers ahead of him on this list, Carr is a senior with more of a prototypical build (6'3", 218 pounds). There is also no doubting his arm talent.
The Bulldogs run a spread system, which makes it a bit difficult to evaluate Carr since he throws a lot of shorter throws and has an explosive receiver in Davante Adams, with whom he's connected on 122 passes.
Adams has also caught 23 of Carr's 48 touchdown passes this season, but what's more impressive is that Carr has taken only 11 sacks and has offset those scores with just seven picks.
Bruce Feldman of CBSSports.com highlights just how tough Carr is as well, which is an important attribute to rally his future NFL teammates:
Derek Carr, the #FresnoSt QB who played ALL of last season w/ a torn abdominal muscle, has a career TD-INT ratio of 111-23. Wow.— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) December 8, 2013
B/R's Matt Miller referenced the alleged 4.58 40-yard dash time Carr reportedly ran in the summer of 2012, and that should only enhance his draft stock:
Fresno State website says Derek Carr ran a 4.56 in the summer of 2012. That’s a great time for a man his size. http://t.co/43BfbGGEXa— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 9, 2013
Carr has also opened up about how he was consumed with the popularity of being a big-time college quarterback, the steps he took to mature and the adversity he faced along the way:
All of that experience suggests that Carr has an enhanced perspective, that he should be able to handle the raised profile that comes with the NFL stage and that it won't go to his head.
There is room for Carr to improve in the face of pressure, and he must if he's meant to live up to his immense promise as a franchise quarterback in the pros.
One big positive is that Carr has the confidence to fit a ball into any window.
Even the widened throwing lanes in college did not hinder his ball placement, and that could very well make Carr a more viable long-term option than Bridgewater, Manziel or any other quarterback in this class.