As is so often the case, an offseason filled with all-star games, the NFL combine and pro days has led to a tumultuous experience for the top quarterbacks in the 2014 NFL draft.
Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo—considered by many to be the top five in this class—are currently going through the exhaustive gauntlet.
No position is more heavily watched or scrutinized, as decision-makers from all 32 teams attempt to determine which quarterbacks have what it takes to become a franchise player at the most important job in sports. Top executives digest tape and analyze combine numbers and interviews before scripted pro days complete the process.
By May 8th, teams will have a good feel for which quarterbacks they feel comfortable building a team around.
Of course, not all quarterbacks selected high in May's draft will turn out to be franchise players. Some make it. Others bust. But there's a strong case to be made for all five as franchise quarterbacks, as you can see below.
Blake Bortles, Central Florida
Prototypical size at 6'5" and 232 pounds and maybe the highest ceiling at the position give Bortles a legitimate chance to be the No. 1 overall pick in a talented draft.
His body size is similar to that of Andrew Luck, which is now necessary to withstand the beatings of the position—especially as an athletic quarterback who can evade the rush and escape the pocket. But his growth potential is even more enticing, as teams will see a raw, unpolished product capable of being one of the top young quarterbacks in the game with the right development.
His talent was already good enough to lead an efficient UCF offense that came back and beat Penn State and Louisville on the road and eventually advanced to a BCS bowl. As a senior, he was named first-team All-American Athletic Conference (over Teddy Bridgewater) after throwing for 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Bortles demonstrated the hurdles he still needs to jump over in games against Ohio State and South Carolina, when the athletes were faster and the game seemed to speed up for him. But he finished strong, throwing for three scores and running in another during a 52-42 win over Big 12 champion Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl.
Concerns about his lower body mechanics were mostly eased at his pro day, which many came away from impressed. According to Rob Rang of CBS, one long-time scout labeled his pro day as a "very solid performance overall."
A team capable of patience and development could land the best quarterback of the bunch in Bortles, a big, athletic quarterback whose arrow is pointing straight up.
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
A disappointing pro day should not detract from what was the best film any quarterback in this class produced.
While somewhat light for a starter in the NFL (he weighed in at 214 pounds at the combine), Bridgewater is a traditional pocket passer who works through multiple reads and delivers an accurate football to all levels of the field. He's strong against the blitz and he made very few mistakes while at Louisville (four interceptions in 2013), two traits that should carry over and drive his success at the next level.
Operating a pro-style offense, Bridgewater chewed up Florida (2012 Sugar Bowl) and Miami (2013 Russell Athletic Bowl) in back-to-back postseasons, proving his dominance as a passer had little to do with playing in a weaker conference. Over 39 career games, he completed over 68 percent of his passes, averaged 8.6 yards per attempt and tossed 72 touchdowns, including 31 his junior year.
His game lends itself to being the most pro-ready of any at the top of the class. Accuracy, poise in the pocket and experience reading and dissecting a defense in a modern offense are all attributes that teams will like in terms of plugging him in as a Day 1 starter. While others may need time to develop in these areas, Bridgewater enters the NFL ahead of the curve.
There are concerns—he's light and far from a dynamic runner, with smallish hands—but the good with Bridgewater far outweighs the bad, giving him the profile of a first-round pick capable of turning around a franchise immediately.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Most still view Manziel as the backyard quarterback who stunned Alabama and the rest of the nation as a redshirt freshman, winning the Heisman Trophy and then indulging fully in the resulting spotlight. But there's much more to the most well-known college player since Tim Tebow.
Manziel is still one of better improv signal-callers in recent memory, and few use their legs better to create openings and big plays. That part of his game should translate to the NFL, where his unique creativity and escapability will pay off when plays break down.
Yet to be a successful quarterback at the highest level, production must also consistently come from the pocket. And in that department, Manziel has improved considerably from his first to second year at Texas A&M. He showed an ability to drive the football to the intermediate and deep parts of the field while improving his completion percentage by almost two full points (68.0 in 2012, 69.9 in 2013). He also bumped up his yards per attempt (8.5 in 2012, 9.6 in 2013) and threw 11 more touchdowns as his instinctual tendency to leave the pocket started to diminish.
Manziel played his best on the biggest stages and against the best competition. As a redshirt freshman, he beat Alabama with overall 300 total yards and three scores and Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl with 287 yards passing, 229 yards rushing and four total touchdowns. Last season, he produced five scores and 562 all-purpose yards in a one-score loss to Alabama, five total touchdowns against national runner-up Auburn and five more scores in a come-from-behind win over Duke in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
The team that drafts Manziel will have to manage him as a player and person, but the upside will be hard to pass up. He brings as much reward as risk to the table, with a game reminiscent of Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton and capable of winning in today's modern NFL.
Derek Carr, Fresno State
With his combination of size (6'2"), athleticism (4.69-second 40-yard dash), pro-ready arm and NFL bloodlines (younger brother of David, former No. 1 pick of the Houston Texans), Carr has the package teams covet in a franchise quarterback.
His arm is especially appealing. Few in the class have the ability to effortlessly distribute the football to all levels of the field. Deep outs, comebacks and vertical routes are no problem for Carr. His NFL team will want to manage where Carr's cannon points, as decision-making has occasionally been an issue.
There are also concerns about Carr's ability to produce against better competition. He played poorly against Oregon and Boise State in 2012, and he finished the season with a 33-point drubbing by SMU, who picked him off twice and constantly disrupted Fresno State's passing game. Last season, Carr struggled in a 45-20 loss to USC in the Las Vegas Bowl (lowest rating and QBR of 2013 season, per ESPN.com).
Overall, he threw for over 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns as a senior.
While single-game production at the college level is only one piece of a much bigger puzzle, Carr's other attributes are starting-quality at the NFL level. The overall talent in his right arm gives him the opportunity to develop into a big-time producer, even if he does possess gun-slinging tendencies. And his underrated athleticism provides versatility in terms of moving the pocket and avoiding the rush.
In the right offense and situation, Carr can develop into a quarterback who does everything needed to score points and win games.
Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
Evaluating Garoppolo is a difficult task, as FCS competition provided him with opportunities against lesser athletes and less complicated defensive schemes. Yet there's an NFL starter tucked away in his skill set, which features a quick release and above-average timing and read progression.
Some will compare him to Tony Romo, who also hailed from Eastern Illinois. And the side-by-side look isn't too far off; both quarterbacks can change games by carving up defenses despite not being the biggest, strongest or fastest at the position.
And at least one noted draft analyst believes Garoppolo has huge upside.
From Mel Kiper Jr., via ESPN:
The reason I say upside is because if you would have put him in a major college program, where would he rank? Probably top five or top 10, with that super quick release. Think about it; 53 touchdowns and nine interceptions at the 1-AA level, but a quarterback who is on the rise, and I think is going to go a little later than he really should because he played at a lower level of competition. Although, two postseason all-star games, looked pretty good.
Draft position is part of his appeal. While Bortles, Bridgewater, Manziel and maybe even Carr will require a high pick to acquire, Garoppolo could be had later and at a better value.
The NFL team that eventually picks him will need to let him develop, especially as a technician in the pocket and against pressure. But once the game starts to slow down for him, there's no question he has starter-level attributes.
The NFL is a far cry from the Ohio Valley Conference, but Romo is a perfect example of a player learning the pro game at the right pace and eventually developing into a difference-maker at quarterback.
All combine numbers provided by NFL.com.
Zach Kruse covers the NFC North for Bleacher Report.
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