A number of quarterbacks appear to be surefire NFL starters as the 2014 draft approaches, but several exciting signal-callers will have the chance to strut their stuff in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.
The third annual All-Star game between the American and National teams takes place on Saturday, Jan. 18, at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., where some of the less-heralded QBs can make an impression on pro talent evaluators.
None of the following field generals come to mind as superstars, yet two of them enjoyed productive collegiate careers for marquee programs, and the other has a small but compelling sample size.
James Franklin, Missouri (American)
After a stellar performance in the Tigers' SEC Championship Game loss to national runner-up Auburn, Franklin lost steam in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.
The senior signal-caller completed just 15 of 40 passes for 174 yards and an interception in a 41-31 win over Oklahoma State, which leaves him plenty to prove in Carson.
Franklin wouldn't have popped up much on draft radars through his first three collegiate seasons, but he saved his best for last. With a live arm to go with athleticism that must be accounted for on the ground, he completed 62.1 percent of his passes and threw 19 touchdowns to only six interceptions.
Injuries have prevented Franklin from making even more of an impact in his two seasons as starter. The guts he's displayed to hang tough and play through pain have to be accounted for when he's being scouted.
Willie Franklin, the QB's father, revealed how hard his son fought while guiding Mizzou, per the Kansas City Star's Tod Palmer:
He was about 40 percent some games. He was just playing on mental toughness last year. There was always pain, but he fought it out and toughed it out. He wanted so bad for the team to win and wanted to do whatever he could do...James may look carefree, but he understands in the big picture what really matters. So he can laugh and he can have fun, but when it’s dinner time, when it’s time to go hunt, he can get focused, because he's spent time developing that.
With a thick build at 6'2" and 230 pounds—and an obvious tolerance for absorbing the beating that sometimes comes with the territory of playing quarterback—James Franklin has some tools to be a serviceable NFL QB.
However, with many other options in the pool of prospects, it's unlikely Franklin gets drafted. He's bound to go in the sixth or seventh round at best, barring a perspective-altering performance in this game.
Connor Shaw, South Carolina (National)
Perhaps the QB participating in this weekend's game with the best shot at being drafted is Shaw.
Playing against SEC competition certainly helps Shaw as he prepares to take his game to the next level. One key aspect about Shaw is that he benefited from outstanding running back play by Marcus Lattimore and, more recently, Mike Davis.
Shaw doesn't have prototypical size either, being listed at 6'1" and 209 pounds. One can't help but be impressed by his decision-making, though, since Shaw had 24 touchdown passes to just one pick as a senior.
An epic performance to close out his collegiate career should see Shaw's stock rising even more. Against a reputedly tough Wisconsin defense in the Capital One Bowl, he completed 22 of 25 passes for 312 yards and three TDs in South Carolina's 34-24 win.
One positive is Shaw's underrated mobility, which as on display on this nifty trick play that burned the Badgers:
Outgoing Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney—universally projected to go somewhere toward the top of the NFL draft—expressed that Shaw has what it takes to succeed in the pros after that performance, per the Post and Courier's Ryan Wood:
Clowney thinks Connor Shaw deserves more NFL hype. "How many interceptions did he have today?' None. "How many this season?" One. "Exactly."— Ryan Wood (@rwood_SC) January 1, 2014
ESPN.com's Edward Aschoff weighed in on Shaw's potential as a pro in referencing how strong he looked ahead of Saturday's game:
Shaw is viewed as a late-round draft prospect, but he was said to have a good practice on Tuesday and looked like the most consistent quarterback on the field...The intangibles that Shaw possesses will help him at the next level and they should make sure that he makes a roster. As long as Shaw doesn't change his approach and works on his passing, he should hear his named called at some point in the NFL draft.
There is plenty of positivity to draw on for Shaw as he prepares to go under the microscope. Some NFL team should draft him on the third day and get a fiery competitor who can be at least a solid backup.
Kenny Guiton, Ohio State (American)
Which QB will perform best in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl?
Buckeyes starter Braxton Miller suffered an injury early in the season, leading the fifth-year senior Guiton into action, where he performed very well.
Guiton didn't encounter the gauntlet of the Big Ten conference schedule. Nevertheless, he tossed 14 TDs and a mere two interceptions. With 330 yards and five touchdowns on 40 carries, the seasoned Guiton also proved to be a viable threat as a runner.
The option to transfer and play more elsewhere is something Guiton didn't elect to exercise. That says something about his commitment to the Ohio State program, since he knew he'd be behind Miller for the end of his playing days.
Part of what led Guiton to being named a Buckeyes' team captain in 2013 was the locker room presence he was, and when Miller was hurt toward the end of 2012's undefeated season, Guiton was called upon to keep the perfect record intact.
NFL teams would draft him with the understanding that he'd be relegated to No. 2 on the depth chart or even third-string, but it's something Guiton would embrace if his time in Columbus is any indication.
The 6'3", 209-pounder has good height, completed nearly 69 percent of his passes this season and showed promise in the early going in Carson, per William S. Carroll of ProPlayerInsiders.com:
Some @NFLPABowl quick impressions, Kenny Guiton was the most quick and decisive of all the QBs. Kasim Edebali has great get off but is still— William S. Carroll (@BCarroll138) January 17, 2014
This is Guiton's chance to shine. In the limited action he's had in the past, he has fully capitalized. Thus, it wouldn't be surprising to see his draft stock soar after the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.