Making guesses about which team is going to pick which player in the NFL draft has become somewhat of a predraft national pastime. Romanticizing the process for the public to see has turned guys like Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. into household names.
The process is never simple. Guessing the needs and wants of 32 organizations and picking apart hundreds of draftees brings thousands of variables into play.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers new head coach Lovie Smith added another set of variables—and clouded everyone’s picture as to what the team might do in the first round of the draft—at the NFL combine when he said his team might take a quarterback with the seventh overall pick in the draft.
“I know enough about that draft to know, yeah, there’s someone that would be worthy of the seventh pick because everything is on the board right now," the Tampa Bay Times reported from Smith's press conference at the combine. "Whenever you have a chance to get a franchise quarterback, you have to consider that."
The Bucs already had Mike Glennon—their third-round pick from a year ago—as a starting quarterback when Smith made those comments. Using such a high pick on a quarterback just a year later seemed like an unexpected move at the time. But now—since the Bucs signed Josh McCown in free agency and anointed him starter over Glennon—the question isn’t so much would Tampa Bay pick a quarterback in the first round, but which one does Smith covet at No. 7?
There are four quarterbacks in the upcoming 2014 draft considered to have first-round labels: Blake Bortles from Central Florida, Teddy Bridgewater from Louisville, Johnny Manziel from Texas A&M and Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr.
Which one of these guys could Smith have his eyes on?
Bridgewater might be the most NFL-ready quarterback of the group, which seems less important now that the Buccaneers have McCown to run their offense for a few seasons until Glennon, or any drafted quarterback, becomes ready.
Choosing not to throw at the combine, Bridgewater was going to let his game film and anything he did at his pro day stand as his resume for the NFL. While his film is impressive, Bridgewater didn’t impress at his pro day, as reported by Mike Huguenin of NFL.com:
NFL Media draft analyst Mike Mayock and NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner weren't wowed by the workout, with Warner pointing out mechanical issues and Mayock saying "I expected a little bit more today."
Mayock said that while most quarterbacks have good pro days because they are able to script the workout and are throwing in a controlled environment, Bridgewater's workout was "average at best." Mayock said he saw "a lot of flutters, a lot of inaccuracy."
Bridgewater has decent size at 6’2” with a 214-pound frame, but has small hands. There now seem to be as many question marks about him as answers, which doesn’t make him a likely target for the Bucs since they already have a young quarterback with a ton of question marks in Glennon.
Bortles wasn’t on the draft radar before his 25-touchdown performance in 2013, where he threw for 3,581 yards and completed 67.8 percent of his passes. Now, he may be selected first overall.
"Yeah, Bortles is somebody that we're spending a lot of time with," general manager Jason Licht told Paul Tenorio and Iliana Limon Romero of the Orlando Sentinel prior to the combine. "Along with all positions, actually. He shows a great upside."
Bortles is 6’5” and has the arm strength and pocket presence that should allow him to succeed in the NFL. He’s not a finished product and will need a lot of work before he’s ready to become a franchise quarterback, but again, that’s fine with Tampa Bay because of the arrival of McCown.
The bad news for the Bucs is the idea that Bortles will be drafted long before the seventh pick in the draft. If the Houston Texas don’t grab him with the first pick, it would be hard to see the Jacksonville Jaguars passing on Bortles at No. 3.
Smith liked what he saw from Manziel in 2013, but wanted to see how he handled the pressure of a pro day, according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.
After watching Manziel perform, Smith said he saw “a guy with a lot of potential, poise … who has a bright future ahead of him." He also addressed the fact that Manziel wasn’t a prototypical passer.
"Football really is football. I know (Manziel is) not your typical prototype quarterback, drop back into the pocket, but there are a lot of quarterbacks doing very well in the league that aren't your prototypical quarterback."
At just under six feet, Manziel has size working against him. He’s also got a shorter release point that could make throwing over an NFL offensive line troublesome.
But Manziel also has great scrambling abilities and an uncanny knack for making plays happen. Add that to the fact that Tampa Bay’s running game is good and the offense can move quickly in short bursts, and the Bucs might be a good fit for Johnny Football.
No one on Tampa Bay’s short list for potential first-round quarterbacks has had quite the passing success as Carr, who threw for 5,082 yards during his senior season and combined for 12,842 over his career with the Bulldogs.
As he grew up in a football family (his older brother David was the first overall pick in the 2002 NFL draft), Carr has fantastic intangibles. His football IQ is incredibly high, he’s got a lot of fight in him and his instincts are great. He’s also been blessed with a good arm, fantastic feet and an ability to see bad things about to happen and evade.
Carr also has a strong link to the Bucs already, according to Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times. New Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford coached Derek’s older brother David at Fresno State and became a family friend to the Carr’s. Derek explains: "If I kept praising him, you wouldn't have any space to write. Him and my dad taught me football. We're pretty much family. We're close to each other."
Auman adds: "Derek was 6 years old when David played under Tedford, and he'd show up after practices with his father, Rodger, tiny football in hand."
Derek's father said: "Jeff had him out there, doing the footwork drills, dropping back, throwing at targets, dropping balls in trash cans. Jeff's been a part of the family for a long time."
Tedford also spent some time after Carr finished his season at Fresno State and before Tedford took the Bucs job, working with Carr one-on-one. For the past 17 years off and on, Carr and Tedford have been linked. It seems likely the two may be interested in rekindling their relationship in Tampa.
Carr has a quick release, which could really be a benefit with the Bucs, and tons of upside to go along with his intelligence and poise. If given the opportunity to work with Tampa Bay’s coaching staff—in particular Tedford—for a few seasons before taking over, Carr could become that franchise quarterback Smith said he wanted at the combine.
Not only is Carr the best fit in Tampa Bay of the four first-round quarterbacks, he's also the only one not projected to be taken before the Bucs pick at No. 7, which makes choosing him both likely and a potential win-win situation.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.
Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.
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