2014 NFL Draft: One Area Every Top QB Must Improve in the NFL
No quarterback prospect is perfect. Even the great Andrew Luck had flaws in his game when he entered the draft that he’s still working through as a young quarterback in the NFL.
NFL teams recognize the positives of each passer and focus on how they can maximize that ability. But as a head coach or general manager, drafting a quarterback basically puts your job security on the line, and they want to be sure the one they draft isn’t going to get them fired.
With that in mind, and also realizing that all of these quarterbacks have impressive pluses to their game, here’s the one area of the top eight passers’ games that needs improvement before they can reach their potential as NFL starters.
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville: Downfield Touch
Teddy Bridgewater’s stock has taken a hit as of late based on his private workouts, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, and his draft stock is beginning to go the way of Geno Smith in the 2013 draft. But on film, Bridgewater is the draft’s best pocket passer, playing composed with rushers around him and finishing throws at a high level.
However, his ability to place throws vertically and on the outside is clearly the biggest weakness in his throwing arsenal. He doesn’t appear to have a good feel for placement on deeper bucket throws, and instead tends to float passes that allow for the opportunity of interceptions or simply an over-throw of his target.
Ideally suited for a West Coast offense that can maximize his short- and mid-range passing ability, Bridgewater will need to adjust in the NFL and clean up his touch, regardless of what system he lands in.
Blake Bortles, Central Florida: Mechanics/Footwork
The common comparison for Blake Bortles as a passer is Andrew Luck, thanks to his body type, ability as a runner, strength when rushers are attacking him and the velocity downfield. However, unlike Luck when he came out of Stanford, Bortles needs ample work with his mechanics and footwork before he can start an NFL game adequately.
His elongated release needs to be cleaned up, as it gives defensive backs an extra second to react to his throws, limiting his room for error as an anticipation passer. While he flashes a tighter release at times, especially when stepping up in the pocket, it needs an overhaul before he’s NFL ready.
As for his footwork, it’s simply scattered and inconsistent. While he was able to get away with it at the college level, minor issues with timing and foot placement in the NFL gives pass-rushers an extra step to finish a sack or forces Bortles in an unnecessarily difficult position for a downfield throw. NFL teams recognize that he needs ample coaching, a key reason why he may be destined for a larger-than-expected drop on draft day.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: Pocket Presence
Known and lauded for his playmaking ability as a mobile quarterback, Manziel is creative and elusive. NFL teams are both excited and terrified about what his potential truly is in the NFL.
However, one area most evaluators can agree on is Manziel’s issues when forced to stay in the pocket and make plays without utilizing his feet. His base tends to get too wide, his decision-making appears a bit rushed and his placement in the middle of the field suffers. The LSU defense this season gave him the most trouble by containing him in the pocket and forced plenty of difficult throws, highlighting these concerns (see his performance here, courtesy of Draft Breakdown).
A complete wild card for NFL teams, Manziel is the most polarizing quarterback prospect in recent years and teams are likely torn on whether he’ll be a plus-NFL starter or a potential college star who busts in the NFL. Either way, he’s not a finished product. My hope is that he lands in a situation that doesn’t force him to play early.
Derek Carr, Fresno State: Footwork Under Pressure
After a solid Senior Bowl and pro day, Derek Carr’s draft stock appears to be back on the rise, including emerging as a potential top-10 pick. With his arm strength and mental ability, NFL teams are likely excited to get their hands on the passer with his talent level.
However, his college offense lacked great diversity to show off his NFL skill set, and instead forced him into some bad habits as a passer. With the offense being very timing-based at Fresno State, Carr was forced to rush throws on screens and quick hitches, never fully taking advantage of his arm talent.
Rushing these throws began to force Carr to have more and more issues with his footwork as pressure got to him, instead opting to rush the throw from a poor foot platform instead of standing strong and finishing his throw. It’s correctable in the NFL, but will take time to remove him from this bad habit. In college, he was able to get away with it. But it certainly won’t fly in the NFL.
Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois: Anticipation Under Pressure
With the quickest release in the draft, plus arm strength and placement across the field and the leadership characteristics to lead an offense, Jimmy Garoppolo has quietly emerged as one of the favorite passers among NFL teams. However, despite his production in college and flashes during the all-star circuit this year, he’s not without one major flaw.
Similar to Derek Carr at Fresno State, Garoppolo played in an offense that focused more on timing than anticipation in the pocket. When he did face pressure in the pocket, he tended to rush some of his throws to avoid taking a big hit in the pocket, a red flag for NFL teams especially after seeing Blaine Gabbert suffer from the same concern and struggle mightily in the NFL.
The issue may be correctable or simply a product of the offensive mindset the Eastern Illinois offense had. Either way, it’s probably the one area that worries teams most about Garoppolo’s chances of emerging as a solid NFL starter.
AJ McCarron, Alabama: Aggressiveness Downfield
Always touted as a game manager, AJ McCarron appeared limited in what he was allowed to do in the Alabama offense. Whether that was his doing or the coaching staff (the latter seems most likely), McCarron has never been able to show aggressiveness vertically as a passer other than designed deep passes.
McCarron doesn’t have ideal arm strength and struggles to finish throws on the outside against zone coverages. However, he needs to show teams that he can anticipate and finish throws across the field despite not having elite arm strength. It’s a key area of his scouting report that could help remove the “game manager” label from his resume.
Zach Mettenberger, LSU: Mobility
One of the top quarterback prospects before he suffered an ACL injury in November 2013, Zach Mettenberger finally got the chance to perform for NFL teams during his pro day on April 10. While he seemingly performed well, the guys at RosterWatch, who were in attendance, expressed some concerns about his ability to finish throws when asked to move outside the pocket, an issue that arose based on film study.
Probably the least-mobile quarterback of the perceived top-10 passers in this class, Mettenberger’s quarterback style is becoming a dying breed, as teams are looking for quarterbacks who can make plays with their feet as well. He won’t be an easy sell for many teams, as the combination of his lack of mobility and his ACL injury may both scare teams away early in the draft.
Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech: Confidence
Confidence may sound like a strange area to improve, but there really isn’t much Logan Thomas can’t do as a quarterback. He possesses the ideal body type, has ample arm strength, flashes great outside-the-hash and vertical passing capability and is a plus-runner if he wants to.
But inconsistency has plagued Thomas’s college career, limiting how high his draft stock could go, and much of that likely stems from a lack of confidence. His college offense limited how much control he had at the line of scrimmage and didn’t offer him great room for growth. Instead, he began to regress as a quarterback, barely improving, based on film, from his sophomore to senior year.
He has all the tools to be an NFL starter and potentially much more, but he’ll need to enter the NFL with a team that won’t rush him to play and instead rebuild him mentally to be prepared to grow in the NFL.