2014 NFL Draft: An Examination of 3 Unheralded Quarterbacks
In football, and in perhaps all of sports, there is no position more examined, more scrutinized and more important than quarterback.
After what was generally considered a weak draft class last year, especially at the QB position, this year's crop of young signal-callers are expected to more than make up for last year's lack of star power. Some quarterbacks, like Aaron Murray, David Fales and Tajh Boyd, were expected to be high draft picks but, for one reason or another, fell way down the charts.
These three quarterbacks now find themselves projected to go sometime on the third day of the draft. They not only were surpassed by the likes of Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles, but have essentially become afterthoughts in a very deep pool of quarterbacks. They went from possible franchise-caliber quarterbacks to late-round developmental players.
With the draft just hours away, now is as good a time as any to break down each quarterback and give them a bit more attention. Both their strengths and weaknesses will be examined to attempt to determine what kind of future they have in the NFL.
Is one of them the next Tom Brady or will they just be another lost name on the depth chart? Well, let's find out.
Aaron Murray, Georgia
Granted, Aaron Murray isn't exactly an unheralded quarterback. He had an outstanding career for the Georgia Bulldogs, finishing as the most accomplished quarterback statistically in the SEC, passing for more than 3,000 yards in each of his four seasons (13,166 total) and 121 touchdowns.
I almost left him out of this article but I included him because he isn't expected to get drafted until the third day, not to mention other quarterbacks like Jimmy Garoppolo and Tom Savage have garnered more interest than him, something that may not be the case if he wasn't injured.
Murray's slide down draft boards is predominantly due to the ACL injury he suffered against Kentucky. The injury occurred when Murray had a 28-yard run early in the second half and changed direction suddenly.
Despite this major setback, two good qualities were shown from it. He showed he is more than just a pocket passer and has the ability to run and pick up good yardage when needed. He also showed off his toughness after staying on the field another possession after the injury occurred. While the latter is not a trait coaches will indulge, it shows he has a team-first attitude, something the coaches will covet.
As Bleacher Report's Matt Miller makes mention of in the above video, Murray possesses good touch on deep passes as well as good accuracy all around. He is a good scrambler behind the line of scrimmage, being able to navigate the pocket as well as breaking out of the pocket to complete passes. He played in a pro-style offense in Georgia so the transition should be easier for him in the pros.
One of the issues Miller brings up about Murray is his arm strength. The only issue I saw with this is the play Miller points out on a deep out-route (about 50 seconds into the video). The pass is underthrown and picked off, although this could be attributed more to his inability to set his feet.
In fact, I thought his arm strength is more than capable for the NFL level. This is evident in this video at about the 0:58 mark. Murray is standing about two yards into his own end zone and slings the ball perfectly down the left side, hitting his receiver perfectly in stride at about the 45-yard line. Make no mistake, he doesn't have nearly the arm his predecessor Matthew Stafford has, but he has more-than-enough arm strength to complete nearly every throw on the route tree.
When watching Murray play, I can't help but see comparisons to Aaron Rodgers. Both are very accurate on short and long passes and can be a threat when forced to gain yards with their legs. Out of the three quarterbacks in this article, Murray arguably has the best pro potential. He just needs to shake the injury concerns, which he did a good job of doing at his pro day, and he should get his chance to be a legitimate starter in the NFL.
Murray has been gaining quite a bit of interest from both the Cincinnati Bengals and the St. Louis Rams. Given each team's respective quarterback situations, they will want Murray to push their incumbent starter, leaving Murray with an opportunity to earn a starting role despite his expected low draft position.
NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt said in an article that Murray is in line to be one of this year's biggest steals and there is nothing I have seen to make me disagree with him. Whichever team drafts him, whether it be Cincinnati, St. Louis or whomever, will be getting a mentally tough, accurate quarterback who excelled against the best competition the NCAA has to offer.
Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Of the three QBs in this article, Clemson's Tajh Boyd has experienced the most dramatic drop. Once considered a top-three pick in some circles, Boyd is now carrying a seventh-round draft grade, per CBS Sports. Boyd absolutely shattered the passing records for yards and touchdowns at Clemson and led the Tigers to their first-ever BCS bowl victory when they defeated Ohio State in the Orange Bowl.
Boyd is the epitome of a dual-threat quarterback. He accumulated over 13,000 total yards and 133 total touchdowns. As Matt Miller states in the video above, Boyd is probably the best pure athlete at the quarterback position in this draft.
This trait bodes well for Boyd as he enters a league where athletic, dual-threat quarterbacks have become a hot commodity, following the success of Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick and Russel Wilson. Boyd was very accurate over the past two seasons, completing nearly 68 percent of his passes over the past two seasons.
Despite his success, Boyd does have a number of question marks, which resulted in his dramatic drop down draft boards. Like every quarterback coming out of a spread system, there are questions abound about Boyd's ability to transition to a pro-style offense. He didn't have to read the defense as much as someone like Murray and focused on getting the ball out quickly.
Boyd has had the luxury of playing with two first-round receivers in Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins. Unfortunately, now it counts against him to an extent as it heightens concerns of inflated stats, something that coincides with his time spent in the spread system.
This isn't the first time a spread-system quarterback has faced questions because of the receiver he was throwing to. The same scenario played out in the 2009 NFL draft with Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell and his teammate Michael Crabtree. Many called Harrell a product of the supremely talented Crabtree and of the system run at Texas Tech. Harrell eventually went undrafted while Crabtree was taken 10th overall and has been an extremely productive receiver in the NFL.
Another issue I noticed is when Boyd plays bad, he plays very bad. This was especially evident in Clemson's blowout loss to Florida State last season, video of which is here. As you can see in the video, FSU gets after him early and doesn't let him get comfortable, which set the tone for the entire game.
Boyd finished the game completing less than 46 percent of his passes, which was the only time all season he completed less than 60 percent of his passes. In his three years as a starter, he's had four games with under 50 percent of passes completed, going 1-3 in those games. To put it in perspective, the top three QBs, Bridgewater, Manziel and Bortles, combined for four games under 50 percent completion.
Boyd has a very specific skill set that, if used properly, could yield successful results. His style of play reminds me of Russel Wilson. Both are short, accurate, strong-armed quarterbacks who can burn a defense with their legs. Wilson landed in the perfect situation in Seattle, so to expect his level of success for Boyd is a bit of a stretch.
Still, Boyd could find some success somewhere like Philadelphia, where he would be a perfect fit in Chip Kelly's fast-paced, mobile system.
David Fales, San Jose State
The final quarterback listed is San Jose State's David Fales. Like Boyd, Fales once was considered a top-10 prospect but slid down draft boards. The former Spartan had an excellent two-year career in which he averaged nearly 4,200 yards per season and had 66 touchdowns against 22 interceptions. At 6'3" and 220 pounds, Fales has the size coveted by coaches and has impressive accuracy, completing over 68 percent of his passes.
Fales' accuracy is his biggest selling point as his arm strength is limited. On short and intermediate throws, Fales can deliver the ball with precision. However, as Miller states in the video above, once he starts throwing more down the field, his passes become less precise and float.
Another issue Fales has is a tendency to stare down his receivers. As you can see in this video, there are numerous instances of this. In fact, it takes up until the 0:36 mark to show a play where he doesn't stare his receiver down. This habit coupled with his lesser arm strength is a serious red flag. Fortunately, these are both things that can be worked on.
Right now, Fales is a developmental project that could one day start in this league. NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock is not entirely sold on Fales, stating he will "wear a baseball cap for 10 years" as someone's backup, although he did concede that he can fight for a starting job. San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh thinks otherwise, saying Fales is a top-five quarterback in this draft after seeing him work out in their facility.
Much like Boyd, his skill set will be best used in certain systems, like the West Coast system, which is something Harbaugh mentions in his evaluation of the San Jose State product. Given his skill set, Fales' game most appropriately mirrors Andy Dalton's. Both are better suited for short-range passes that can get their receivers open in space.
Fortunately for him, the last game time impression he left for scouts was outdueling Fresno State's Derek Carr at the end of the season, throwing for nearly 550 yards and six touchdowns. That performance should show scouts the potential he has given the right coaching.
If Fales can land in a position where he has a strong supporting cast and isn't relied upon to carry the team, he could be a great find for a team in need of a quarterback. He has the accuracy and build to be a successful quarterback at the next level and one of his biggest issues (staring down receivers) can be easily coached out of him.