Talent departs, and new talent steps in to fill in the void. This tried and tested formula has long been college football’s cure for absorbing lost star power. It functions because there are future stars (eager to don the mantle, especially when it comes to replenishing the most important position in the sport).
Yet, as the 2014 offseason stretches out its legs and reaches for the remote, one can’t help but take note of the departures at quarterback—the names, the statistics, the impact and the hollows they leave behind.
And perhaps more significant than the talent group shuffling its way toward the exit is the lack of known commodities suddenly expected to keep the assembly line operational.
That’s where CBS Sports’ quarterback rankings for the 2015 NFL draft come in. It’s early, but it also tells a story. It doesn’t tell the whole story—and we’ll get to that—but it outlines the uncertainty that has suddenly been thrown upon us.
Of course, this list leaves off a few notable quarterbacks that warrant immediate recognition: Florida State’s Jameis Winston, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and UCLA’s Brett Hundley are all back for at least one more season. Their presence alone is enough to keep the totality of the position above water.
These are superstars capable of incredible things; the surest commodities college football will return—at any position—this fall. But the majority of the list is intriguing, and maybe the fitting to cast over the group is unproven.
It isn’t without demonstrated talents and intriguing prospects—like Baylor stat machine Bryce Petty or Ohio State’s electric Braxton Miller—but the sure things are dwarfed by those offering up unknown potential. More specifically, there are far fewer known commodities than question marks, which is a drastically different outlook than what we’ve been spoiled with in recent years.
To assess such uncertainty we must first address what’s been lost. And in 2014, the answer is quite a bit. Not just at quarterback, but everywhere.
“I would say the 2014 draft is the best I've seen,” Bleacher Report’s Lead Draft Analyst Matt Miller said. “That’s not the case at quarterback; 2012 actually has that honor. This year’s group is built more on potential than sure things.”
The transition from productive college player to NFL prospect loved by scouts is an undefined path. In fact, a handful of incredibly productive players likely won’t hear their names called until later rounds.
Players like Aaron Murray and Tajh Boyd—two staple quarterbacks who thrived at powerhouse schools over an extended period—won’t be projected to continue such dominance at the next level. But their production at the college level was undeniable, and they will join a handful of other quarterbacks in a mass exodus.
Some will be drafted early on—perhaps as early as the first pick—others might not ever hear their name called. Regardless, the victories, touchdowns and yardage will be difficult to replicate.
It’s not just the names, jaw-dropping highlights, awards or the touchdowns that jump off the page. Well, it is, but it’s also the games played. It’s the countless snaps. It’s the security blanket these quarterbacks provided.
|Notable Quarterback Departures|
|Name||School||Games||Pass Yards||Rush Yards||TDs|
|Derek Carr||Fresno St.||43||12,842||190||118|
|Connor Shaw||South Carolina||42||6,074||1,683||74|
|Johnny Manziel||Texas A&M||26||7,820||2,169||93|
Many of these players have been fixtures of the sport for an extended period, thus making their departures that much more impactful. The Clemsons, Georgias and Alabamas of the world—just to highlight a few—suddenly find themselves in uncharted waters for the first time in years.
“I do think it's a weird year for quarterbacks,” Miller said while evaluating the 2015 class. “Mariota is my top overall player, and I love his game. As for Jameis Winston, I think he’s a bit overrated right now. I also love Brett Hundley's potential and think Bryce Petty has first-round upside, too.”
It’s the worst kind of cocktail. All ingredients are watered down—except ice—thus creating a less potent product. But assuming that the quality of football will fall well short of filling in the gaps fails to give our assembly line the credit it deserves.
This concept of replacing marquee players with new and exciting touchdown machines—especially at quarterback—has endured the losses of many special players. There’s not doubt it has its work cut out for it this year given the quality of the departed, but a list of senior quarterbacks only explores a sector of the potential replacements.
After all, how much of a sure thing was Johnny Football before 2012? And while you knew plenty about him given his high-profile recruitment, what guarantees were there with Jameis Winston before last season?
Stars will be reborn. Potential will develop into something more, while others will enter the fray without warning.
Perhaps it will come at Texas A&M with Johnny Manziel’s replacement. Maybe Florida State transfer Jacob Coker will thrive in Alabama surrounded by multiple weapons. Or maybe Missouri’s Maty Mauk will grab hold of the starting role and deliver the carnage we saw glimpses of last year.
This is just a sample size of the potential, which is all it remains right now. Soon enough it will be time to see if there’s something to it.
College football has a quarterback drought on its hands—a more alarming one than usual—but help is coming. The stopgaps may not be in plain sight, but the formula is still crunching numbers.
The assembly line remains fully functional.
*Adam Kramer is the lead college football writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand. You can follow him on Twitter here.