The strength of the quarterback class in the 2014 NFL draft is still to be determined, but there should be a number of talented players who declare themselves eligible soon enough, as they look to make the jump from college to the pros.
Many big names have decided to return to school, with Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Baylor's Bryce Petty as some of the headliners. Meanwhile, LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Georgia's Aaron Murray both suffered torn ACLs to impact their draft status.
What looked to be a rather loaded crop of quarterback prospects has thinned. Let's take a look at those still left standing and which NFL teams near the top of the draft would be the best fits for each.
Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville: Houston Texans
Even though interim coach Wade Phillips has past experience at the helm of several NFL teams, it's a good bet the Texans coaching staff is getting an overhaul.
Therefore, Houston needs a malleable quarterback to usher in a new era. Veteran Matt Schaub has played under fired head coach Gary Kubiak for his entire tenure as a starter and Case Keenum doesn't seem like the answer for the Texans' future.
Bridgewater is the most polished quarterback, in terms of being the complete package. He has arm strength, accuracy, poise, leadership, decision-making abiity, field vision and solid mobility to boot.
B/R draft expert Matt Miller gives Bridgewater high praise as the No. 1 overall prospect if he indeed chooses to forgo his senior season with Louisville:
Bottom line: If Teddy Bridgewater is in the 2014 NFL draft class, he will be my No. 1 overall player.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 21, 2013
Andre Johnson, and this past year's first-round pick—DeAndre Hopkins, form a dangerous one-two punch on the outside, while Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham offer friendly targets at tight end.
Graham is an unrestricted free agent, so securing him wouldn't hurt.
The Texans are loaded on defense, so if Bridgewater can come in and be what Miller and others believe he can be, it should be a quick turnaround after a tremendously disappointing season.
Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M: Cleveland Browns
All of the quarterbacks here would feel fortunate to fall into this situation with established success in Norv Turner as the offensive coordinator and head coach Rob Chudzinski's innovative input.
Manziel has put up incredible numbers at College Station, Texas, facing top-notch competition in the SEC. Thanks to underrated arm talent, uncanny scrambling ability and a perpetually improving understanding of opposing defenses, Johnny Football has continued to live up to his hype.
But with a recent decline in his play, his slight frame and the challenges of an elevation to the professional level, it may be too much to ask Manziel to be the No. 1 guy immediately.
Steve Doerschuk of the Canton Repository and his colleagues believe the Aggies star would be better than Tim Couch or any signal-caller the Browns have gambled on since reentering the league in 1999:
Johnny Manziel isn’t this, isn’t that ... strikes us as a better draft prospect than anyone the Browns have tried since Couch. .— Steve Doerschuk (@sdoerschukREP) December 20, 2013
The good news about landing in Cleveland is that Manziel could learn from Jason Campbell, who has played well when healthy at times in 2013, as well as Brian Hoyer, the man seemingly capable of restoring order under center before tearing his ACL in Week 5.
Chudzinski helped mold Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton by throwing in creative read-option concepts, which is something he could do with Manziel—even if it's only in special packages at first.
Easing along a somewhat raw, but supremely talented, athlete with huge upside and a fantastic staff to coach him up would give Manziel an ideal launching point for his NFL career.
Derek Carr of Fresno State: Minnesota Vikings
Which QB should be chosen first in the 2014 NFL draft?
In a spread-oriented attack with the Bulldogs, Carr is used to whipping off quick throws, but he has the strongest arm among the top QBs in this class, excluding the injured Mettenberger.
It's unclear what the status of the Vikings coaching staff will be beyond this season, but the supporting cast of targets in the passing game is ideal for Carr to thrive as the future of the franchise.
Both Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder are exceptional athletes who can keep plays alive with their feet. Neither, however, hold a candle to Carr's arm. It's been reported that Carr has run a 4.56 40-yard dash, per NFL.com's Bucky Brooks.
Carr's poor performance (29-of-54 passing for 217 yards) in a 45-20 loss to USC in the Las Vegas Bowl may hurt his draft stock and NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah has his reservations about one key attribute:
Derek Carr has a lot of tools but I have concerns with his poise. Tough to coach that up.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) December 21, 2013
However, Carr has a chance to redeem himself at the Senior Bowl, where he has already accepted an invitation.
Between explosive rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, established veteran Greg Jennings, promising young receiver Jairus Wright and standout tight end Kyle Rudolph, there are plenty of weapons for Carr to distribute the ball to should he land in the Twin Cities.
Having a quarterback who can strike fear into a defense deep down the field will open up running room for Adrian Peterson and could turn the Vikings into an offensive juggernaut in the years to come if Carr capitalizes on his promise.
Blake Bortles of Central Florida: Jacksonville Jaguars
Keeping Bortles in the Sunshine State will add an element of sentimentality, and it helps that he was the spark for UCF's rise to unprecedented prominence and a BCS game this season.
Shouldering that type of burden is a positive for the Knights star, who would be tasked with turning around the Jaguars' fortunes.
Although Bortles hails from a small program, ESPN.com college football expert Todd McShay (subscription required) has him going No. 3 overall to the Oakland Raiders in his first 2014 mock draft. Part of McShay's justification featured comparisons to some very gaudy pros:
Bortles has good size, arm strength and accuracy, and has proved he can win from inside the pocket. He also possesses good character and a strong football IQ. A nice bonus is that he's built to last in the NFL because he's big and mobile enough to move around. He isn't Cam Newton, but more of a cross between Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger.
The key for Jacksonville will be selling running back Maurice Jones-Drew on a viable, long-term option at quarterback so that he doesn't leave in free agency this offseason. Bortles could aid the sales pitch, thanks to his growth potential and immediate ability to run the read-option.
Being flanked with young playmakers such as Cecil Shorts, Ace Sanders and even Denard Robinson would see a young nucleus emerging in Jacksonville.
A big X-factor is talented, but troubled, wide receiver Justin Blackmon. The 2012 No. 5 overall pick is suspended indefinitely and can apply for NFL reinstatement prior to the start of the 2014 campaign.
Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch held the same position at the University of Miami before joining Jags head coach Gus Bradley's staff.
Fisch knows how to relay a pro-style offense to a young quarterback, having done so with Stephen Morris with the Hurricanes. The 37-year-old play-caller would be an ideal fit to connect with Bortles and usher him into the league.