NFL Draft 2014: Biggest Negative Surrounding Each of the Top QB Prospects
The quarterback position is always the most scrutinized in a given draft, but two extra weeks added before the 2014 NFL draft has ensured that any flaw—tangible or not, football related or not—has been uncovered and shared on all of the top quarterback prospects.
For example, take one NFL scout's ridiculous knock on Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, per Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
"You wonder if he can lead just because he's a little different," the scout said. "OK in the interview but not the type of guy you'd have a beer with. Good kid but little bit of a forced leader. Can he fit in?"
This kind of off-the-rail and mostly unnecessary psychoanalysis can make the draft process almost unbearable. However, not all criticisms are created equal; some have very real value, and most remain instrumental to when a quarterback is selected and which team will do the drafting.
In the following slides, we'll address the biggest negative each of the 2014 draft's quarterbacks brings to the table.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Biggest negative: Footwork in the pocket
I'm not in a position to comment on his alleged party/rockstar lifestyle because I don't know Johnny Manziel, and I don't know if you can quantify how or if his personal interests have affected his football talent in any way. A franchise quarterback needs to have football as the center of his life, but you still see Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers and a bunch of other guys doing commercials and basking a little bit in the spotlight. It's about creating a healthy balance between personal and professional interests.
Manziel's biggest on-field hurdle will be cleaning up the little things in his footwork and mechanics, which will translate into him becoming a more dangerous passer in the pocket.
An athlete who could run around and improvise his way out of trouble in college, Manziel will now need to develop into a better quarterback in the pocket to last in the NFL.
Brees is a master manipulator of the pocket, using quick feet and smart, subtle movements within a small area to create space and throwing windows. Wilson will escape the pocket and create when necessary, but he doesn't bail out early and trusts himself to step into the pocket and deliver down the field.
Manziel needs the same tools. He can run around and make improbable plays out of nothing on five or six snaps per game. But for the other 20-25 passing plays every Sunday, he needs to have the ability to show patience, awareness and confidence in the pocket. Unlike most college programs, NFL defenses have the athletes and game plans ready to force Manziel to beat them from the pocket.
“He doesn’t want to step up into the pocket," former MVP quarterback Rich Gannon told Peter King of Sports Illustrated. "If you watch him here, he’s a guy that likes to drift. There’s a little bit of push, but he could step up. But he wants to get outside because it’s easier for him."
Manziel is entering the NFL with similar game-breaking potential as Michael Vick. But Vick has had an up-and-down career, thanks in part to his inability to consistently dominate from the pocket. Manziel can be a great one if he masters the little aspects of playing within the framework of an NFL pocket.
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Biggest negative: Lean frame
Bridgewater stunk up his pro day. There's no denying it. Even Bridgewater doesn't deny it. But in terms of actual game performances, no quarterback in this class has a better combination of skills that translate to success on the field. Reading the field, going through progressions, anticipating throws, redirecting at the line of scrimmage—Bridgewater gets plus grades in all these aspects.
His most applicable knock is probably his lean, somewhat fragile-looking frame.
NFL quarterbacks don't need to be 6'5" and 240 or so pounds like Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger to make it in the league. The position is also highly protected now in terms of what is a legal hit and what will draw a flag. But quarterbacks do still take punishment every week, and no team wants to draft a player who might be an availability risk.
Bridgewater stands 6'2" but weighs in the low 200-pound range. He is certainly tough enough—see games against Florida (where he got blasted early on) and Rutgers (where he came back from ankle and wrist injuries)—but NFL hits can add up in a hurry, especially when a quarterback does not have the padding extra weight can provide.
The majority of criticisms waged against Bridgewater have been nothing more than white noise. He's the most complete passer in this draft, but his lack of ideal bulk does pose short-term and long-term durability concerns.
Blake Bortles, UCF
Biggest negative: Projection skill set
The problem with Blake Bortles certainly isn't size—he's 6'5" and a thick 232 pounds. He's also experienced operating from the pocket, an important trait for NFL quarterbacks.
Bortles' biggest issue is projecting where he is now to where he could be down the road.
Every draft pick requires a level of projection, especially at quarterback. But considering Bortles played in a relatively simple offense against a lesser degree of competition (for the most part), there's a higher degree of difficulty in determining how his skill set will evolve and improve over time.
Games against Ohio State in 2012 and South Carolina last season highlight the worry: Against fast, aggressive, NFL-style defenses, Bortles struggled. He will enter the NFL as a prototypical quarterback in stature and playing style but with much development needed in most aspects of playing the position.
"Has an NFL physique, NFL arm, moves well," one scout told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Not ready to play. He has some of the same problems Blaine Gabbert had. He came out early and needed refinement. But he has a lot to work with."
Any comparison with Blaine Gabbert is worrisome. But whereas the Jacksonville Jaguars ultimately mismanaged Gabbert, a former first-round pick, Bortles' team will hopefully give him time to develop and learn before being thrown into the fire.
Still, there's always danger in drafting the high-potential player in need of so much polishing. Bortles may have a high reward factor, but his bust risk also looms large—especially if he lands with a team that wants him to play right away.
Derek Carr, Fresno State
Biggest negative: Playing from under center, dealing with pressure
The NFL has gone more and more the way of the college game, with several top quarterbacks—such as Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford—operating out of shotgun-heavy offenses.
Still, all the best signal-callers can get under center and remain as deadly within the confines of a more pro-style offense. For instance, Rodgers had a 101.0 passer rating from the shotgun formation last season but also a 135.2 rating under center.
Carr, who spent some time early on at Fresno State in a pro-style offense, is more of a projection from under center. His later collegiate offenses were almost all shotgun and pistol formations. He'll now need to prove over time that he can retreat from under center and still be the same quarterback, reading defenses and delivering strikes down field. It's becoming an easier and easier transition, but it's still an important one.
Carr also has to improve his play under duress.
Everyone will tie him to his older brother, who got beat around while with the Houston Texans and never fully developed as a quarterback. It's unfair to tie David's reality to Derek, but pop in the USC tape from Carr's final collegiate game, and you see some serious struggles dealing with pressure.
NFL teams are in rightfully in love with Carr's arm and athleticism, but he still needs to develop under center and calm his instincts when defenses collapse the pocket.
Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
Biggest negative: Collegiate offense, competition
You hate to knock a guy for his situation, especially when Jimmy Garoppolo made the very best of his own at Eastern Illinois. But when evaluating a quarterback, all on-field factors have to be in play.
For Garoppolo, the biggest question mark is how he'll adjust from playing in the FCS to facing the best of the best in the NFL.
At Eastern Illinois, he rarely faced complex defenses featuring elite athletes. He did play well against Northern Illinois, and he more than held his own at the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl, but his sample sizes against NFL-quality competition are the smallest (by far) of any of the top quarterbacks in this draft.
Teams will have to project whether Garoppolo's lightning release but average arm is capable of beating NFL defenses every Sunday, especially when the schemes he faces become more varied and difficult and the speed of the game increases. And like Derek Carr, Garoppolo played mostly from the shotgun, meaning he'll have a learning curve under center.
There's still a lot to like in Garoppolo, including his release, accuracy and timing. His skill set has the upside of an NFL starter. But how he handles the uptick in competition and game speed is mostly an unknown, which can be a scary projection for a team looking for a franchise quarterback.
Zach Mettenberger, LSU
Biggest negative: Mobility
A team looking for prototypical arm talent and size will like what it sees in Mettenberger, who has a rocket right arm—capable of making any NFL throw—attached to his 6'5" frame.
But don't expect RG3-like mobility from the former LSU quarterback. In fact, expect the polar opposite.
"He's a statue," one scout told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
"Just an arm," said another scout. "He has no other quarterback qualities."
Mettenberger is heavy-footed, and everything he does in the pocket looks like it's in slow motion. A torn ACL suffered in late November will only limit his mobility further.
Behind a really sound offensive line, he could get away with his big arm and limited movement skills. But any offense that will require him to create in the pocket or escape pressure consistently could be awaiting catastrophe.
Every rookie quarterback needs a good fit to ultimately succeed, but Mettenberger especially needs to land in the right situation. While some quarterback traits can be fixed over time, mobility is more of an athleticism issue—and probably one that will stick with Mettenberger throughout his career.
Tom Savage, Pitt
Biggest negative: Consistency
Maybe Savage's lack of on-field consistency can be forgiven given that he transferred three times and only made 28 starts while sitting out both the 2011 and 2012 seasons. But consistency in the NFL is king—the ultimate difference between average and good and between good and very good.
Savage certainly has all the tools. His size (6'4", 228 lbs) and arm talent are both traits NFL teams salivate over. He also works from the pocket and has shown an attractive physical toughness.
However, his passing results have been up and down and all over the board.
In a win over Duke last season, Savage threw for 424 yards and six touchdowns. A week later, he completed just 41.9 percent of his throws and tossed two picks in an ugly performance against Virginia. He also struggled mightily in big-game chances against Florida State (two interceptions) and Virginia Tech (187 yards, 46.4 completion percentage).
He finished his college career with 19 interceptions and a completion percentage of just 56.8.
Upon arriving in the NFL, Savage will need a lot of reps and a stable, comfortable environment to erase his consistency problems and give him a chance to make a run at a starting job.
AJ McCarron, Alabama
Biggest negative: Limited upside
Nothing about AJ McCarron's game stands out and screams "elite," but a quarterback doesn't need off-the-charts traits to play the position with effectiveness. McCarron's best comparison might be Andy Dalton, and he's taken the Cincinnati Bengals to the playoffs in each of the last three years.
However, McCarron does need to find a similar fit as Dalton. Talented with a great defense, the Bengals have an ideal roster to help comfort a game-managing quarterback.
And it's certainly not a wild assumption to say that McCarron is viewed as nothing more than a game manager at the next level. While the term should no longer be considered derogatory, it does highlight his limited upside.
He has an average arm, average size and average athleticism. At Alabama, he thrived with the nation's best offensive line, a dominant running game and a defense packed to the brim with future NFL players. He won big, leading a talented football team to three national titles with accuracy, poise and decision-making.
However, asking him to take an NFL offense to the next level is probably asking too much.
Can he become an effective starter? Sure. He can accomplish all Dalton has and probably more. But you're not drafting McCarron to be the next Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers. He is what he is.
Aaron Murray, Georgia
Biggest negative: Height, durability
You really wonder how Aaron Murray would be viewed had he grown two more inches and not torn his ACL late last season. He has the experience, pocket presence and quick release teams want at the position.
But the reality is, he stands just a little over 6'0", and his ACL is only five months removed from major surgery.
There were times during four years at Georgia when his lack of ideal height played a role, as he occasionally struggled to find throwing lanes and had passes knocked down or tipped at the line of scrimmage. The only ways to combat the problem are with elite athleticism to get outside the pocket (see: Russell Wilson) or elite movement inside the pocket (see: Drew Brees).
Murray's injury history is less concerning, as he made 52 collegiate starts. Still, the ACL is a major surgery, and it adds to the worry of his durability as a smaller quarterback.
Murray has skills teams want in a quarterback. But to make it as a potential starter, he'll need to develop Brees-like mobility and awareness in the pocket while also keeping his smallish frame safe from danger.
Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
Biggest negative: Accuracy, turnovers
Possibly no quarterback is more tantalizing than Logan Thomas, who is an uneven mix of undeniable physical attributes but also maddening inconsistency.
He stands 6'6" and almost 250 pounds. He finished among the top quarterbacks in every combine drill. He can effortlessly flick the football to every level. He rushed for a school-record 24 touchdowns.
As for his consistency in using those rare traits, well, that's a different story.
Thomas finished his collegiate career with 39 interceptions and 23 fumbles. His completion percentage was just 55.6 over 40 games. His best season came as a sophomore, but he still threw 10 picks and completed less than 60 percent of his passes.
"He has a lot of intriguing ability but he's been a turnover machine," a scout told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "He's not an accurate passer. He's a scary kid."
Turnovers and accuracy issues are probably the most frightening of negatives for a quarterback. But you better believe there are a handful of coaches who see all the physical skills Thomas possesses and will beg their general managers to pick him next week. He's a project with career-killing tendencies, but the upside on fixing Thomas is through the roof.