College Football QBs Set to Replace Future NFL Players in 2014
Conventional thinking dictates that, whenever a team loses its quarterback to the NFL draft, it stands to get worse the following season. Logical thinking tends to agree. Quarterbacks get drafted for a reason—they're very good—and losing a very good player at the most important position in sports is a difficult thing to recover from.
But it's not impossible. EJ Manuel, after all, was the first quarterback off the board in the 2013 NFL draft, and Florida State seemed to have done just fine without him.
Still, replacing a program-changing quarterback is one of the most hit-or-miss propositions in college athletics. For every Jameis Winston at Florida State or Nick Florence at Baylor, there are five or six Paul Millards at West Virginia.
As far as I can tell, there are eight power-conference quarterbacks with a great chance to get drafted in 2014, plus one "small" school prospect who could go in the top 10.
Here's who stands to replace them.
Will Gardner, Louisville
Player Replaced: Teddy Bridgewater
Louisville loses Bridgewater and head coach Charlie Strong next season, but it adds former boss Bobby Petrino, who is no stranger to leading successful offenses. If Will Gardner is ready to put in the work, he could find a ton of success next season.
A 3-star prospect from the class of 2012, Gardner has the size (6'5'') and arm to be a good quarterback in Petrino's vertical system, much like Ryan Mallett at Arkansas. He also got to learn under Bridgewater for two seasons, which cannot be overstated in importance.
Even if he rarely saw the field as a redshirt freshman in 2013, that experience should help Gardner hold off Class of 2013 recruit Kyle Bolin, who came out of school with a higher pedigree. With a new coach in tow, however, this competition will be very much open.
Justin Holman, Central Florida
Player Replaced: Blake Bortles
Tyler Gabbert was the original backup to Bortles this season, but the junior—and brother to Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert—mysteriously quit the team midseason, leaving just a pair of freshmen to fill out the roster.
Holman soon assumed No. 2 duties with the Knights, and he is favored to hold off Pete DiNivo to win the job next season. A big-bodied running type (6'4'', 206 lbs), Holman can do a lot of the stuff Bortles was so successful doing, albeit with less experience and consistency.
With Storm Johnson also leaving the offense, head coach George O'Leary will want to settle this competition early and begin building around a new signal-caller.
Kenny Hill, Texas A&M
Player Replaced: Johnny Manziel
The honor (and burden) of replacing Manziel could go to a number of different candidates.
Matt Joeckel is the oldest, but the offense looked stale and out of sorts, at times, when he was called to relieve Manziel in 2013. Incoming freshman Kyle Allen is the top-ranked passer in the Class of 2014, and his ceiling might make him a candidate as well. But Texas A&M cannot afford to bank on someone so green.
Kenny Hill appears to be the best middle ground between those two, a melange of both talent and (relative) experience. He played in four games as a true freshman in 2013 and is the closest thing on the roster to Manziel with regard to running ability.
Look for Hill to get the first crack.
Brian Burrell, Fresno State
Player Replaced: Derek Carr
Head coach Tim DeRuyter is in a bit of a bind, tasked with replacing both Carr and lead receiver Davante Adams, despite not having a single quarterback with a college start on his roster.
Brian Burrell was the backup in 2013 and will be a senior next season, so he appears to be the front-runner for the position. But he was a junior college transfer this past year, which means he's not exactly ahead of the competition in terms of system experience.
Zack Greenlee and Myles Carr—no relation to Derek and David—are younger prospects that will put up a fight in camp, but DeRuyter doesn't have time to groom another quarterback. He wants to win now, if still possible, and Burrell seems the best option to do that.
Luke Del Rio, Alabama
Player Replaced: AJ McCarron
Alabama has, perhaps, the most wide-open quarterback battle in the country heading into 2014. It might be the most wide-open battle in recent memory, as well.
Any of six guys on the current roster could realistically win the job, each bringing their own set of strengths and weaknesses. I broke down the competition in more depth last week, though soon after publishing, rumors of Florida State backup Jacob Coker transferring to 'Bama even further muddled the equation.
In the end, I gave a slight edge to former walk-on Luke Del Rio, who won the No. 3 job last season. Jack Del Rio's son has the endorsement of McCarron, which speaks volumes in the city of Tuscaloosa.
But really, this job could go to anyone.
Update: Update: Del Rio threw a giant wrench in the quarterback race on Wednesday, announcing on Twitter that he will leave Alabama. So much for that prediction...
I'd call Cooper Bateman the new tentative favorite.
Anthony Jennings, LSU
Player Replaced: Zach Mettenberger
LSU fans need not fret about Jennings' so-so game against Iowa. Hard as it may be for folks in SEC country to admit, the Hawkeyes actually have a pretty good defense. A true freshman struggling against them is not the end of the world.
Instead, Tigers fans should focus on the positives. In relief of Mettenberger, who injured his knee, Jennings led a 99-yard drive to save the game (and season) against Arkansas, capping it off with a beautiful deep ball to a wide open Travin Dural for a 49-yard touchdown.
With Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry gone to the NFL, LSU's passing game will likely take a big step back next season. But Jeremy Hill and some important offensive line pieces return, so Jennings can be a glorified game manager on most Saturdays, gaining experience for a bigger, more advanced role as a junior in 2015.
Update: Jeremy Hill flipped the script on Monday night, announcing that he will, indeed, declare for the 2014 NFL Draft. Still, Jennings has enough talented offensive pieces around him to succeed.
Chad Kelly, Clemson
Player Replaced: Tajh Boyd
Clemson does not lack for good options to replace Tajh Boyd, though whoever wins the job will be faced with some giant cleats to fill.
Chad Kelly is my favorite, though, having now spent two years in Chad Morris' system to go with his impressive set of physical tools. Rising senior Cole Stoudt can't be ruled out, but his lack of mobility might hurt compared to the competition around him.
True freshman Deshaun Watson can't be counted out, either. He's the top-ranked dual-threat QB in the Class of 2013, and according to Tiger Net, head coach Dabo Swinney called him "as talented a guy as we've signed here."
Still, with Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant both leaving early for the draft, it would be cruel to throw a true freshman into the fire. Kelly is the best of both worlds.
Hutson Mason, Georgia
Player Replaced: Aaron Murray
Hutson Mason didn't set the world on fire in relief of Murray at the end of the season, but he showed just enough against Kentucky and Nebraska to inspire faith from fans in 2014.
Mark Richt and Mike Bobo didn't shrink the playbook when Mason came in, choosing to let him do what he does best: Get the ball downfield with accuracy. He averaged 8.8 yards per attempt on 110 passes in 2013, which are great numbers for a backup.
In (ostensibly) the final season with Todd Gurley in Athens, Richt and Bobo know that this team is in a "win now" mindset. Mason has been prepping for this moment since the day he signed in February 2010, but replacing a legend is easier said than done.
Ryan Williams, Miami
Player Replaced: Stephen Morris
Like Georgia with Todd Gurley, Miami has to enter 2014 under the assumption that running back Duke Johnson will leave early for the NFL. If that is the case, it cannot afford to groom one of its younger quarterbacks, Kevin Olson and Brad Kaaya.
Ryan Williams is likely to be the guy.
Williams transferred from Memphis after throwing 290 passes as a true freshman in 2010. The team went 1-11, which played a large part in his transfer, but Williams made a name for himself as one of the bright spots in an otherwise dark situation.
Now entering his senior season, Williams is the best option to replace Stephen Morris, whom he backed up (successfully) in 2013. Olson, the brother of NFL tight end Greg, got in trouble with Al Golden and didn't make the trip to the bowl game, while Kaaya's high school won't let him enroll in time for spring practice.