2014 NFL Draft: Breaking Down This Year's Loaded QB Class
Although the 2014 NFL draft is lacking the star-studded luster of the 2012 draft that included Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, it certainly is not without its intriguing superstars.
This year’s crop of cannon-armed prospects comes in all shapes and sizes. Yet despite the variety, there seems to be a nation divided when it comes to ranking these guys. The top prospects on this list are trending up and down faster than most people can catch up.
With the draft taking place this Thursday, it’s time we make some sense of these prospects and learn a bit more about what each of these guys can do at the next level.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
There are those out there who question his character and commitment to the game; others have issue with his size and reckless style of play. Johnny Manziel’s propensity to scramble and improvise has many analysts worried his potential is limited to short-term excitement at the next level—similar to what we’ve seen from Michael Vick’s career.
Though understandable to some degree, Vick comparisons are flawed for a number of reasons.
Most of Manziel’s big plays were not generated by his legs, though he did rush for 30 touchdowns while averaging 6.3 yards per carry during his collegiate career.
Despite notoriously avoiding the safe and conservative check-down plays, Mr. Football still managed to finish No. 1 among the top 20 QB prospects in career completion percentage with a 68.9 percent average while passing for 9.1 yards per attempt. I hope you understand what that stat means.
Not only is he throwing the ball down the field more often than not, but he’s completing a higher rate of passes than any other quarterback in the nation!
This is something Michael Vick could only dream of accomplishing.
Coincidentally, both QBs only played two years of college ball. Vick, however, only completed 56 percent of his throws while averaging nearly half the yards per attempt as Manziel.
Not only was Manziel a better passer than Vick, but he also had nearly twice as many rushing touchdowns along with a significantly better yards-per-carry average than Vick's 5.5 yards per run.
The only superior trait Vick possesses over Manziel is athleticism.
Still, some valid questions about Manziel’s NFL future do linger. Can he read the field consistently without looking to break the pocket? Will his diminutive stature ever survive against the grown men of the NFL?
Despite the fact that Johnny Manziel is considerably undersized for the NFL, he’s still an underrated athlete, equipped with the foot speed to evade would-be tacklers and the wherewithal to avoid direct hits from opponents.
His decision-making, immaturity and smallish frame do add to his risky draft status, but he seems to have certain intangibles that you look for when seeking out your franchise quarterback.
If he goes to a team that understands how to utilize him, I expect this kid to not only thrive but to also prove he has the tools needed to survive over the long haul. His instincts are unparalleled, and his competitive drive should keep him hungry to be the best, just as it has done for undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather.
For what it’s worth, if I were a team in need of a franchise quarterback, I’d have a hard time passing on Manziel. I’ve never seen anyone do the things on a football field that Johnny Manziel has done in just two years against the most notorious defenses college football has ever seen.
Manziel is clearly not for everyone. Some general managers will openly embrace a character like his, while others will keep him as far away from their franchises as possible.
Brett Smith, Wyoming
Many of you out there might be wondering who this guy is and how he ended up on a list of top quarterbacks.
Brett Smith’s film while at the University of Wyoming was so enjoyable, I simply had to write an article, which includes an interview with Mr. Smith himself.
This kid may not look like the smoothest, prettiest thing to ever sling a football, and he may not have ideal footwork or the strongest arm, but when you pay attention to what this kid is forced to work with in order to make things happen, you start to understand what makes this unheralded warrior so intriguing. Here’s one of the many noteworthy things Brett Smith had to say from the article:
"Ever since I was in high school I wasn’t recruited and wasn’t given much respect at Wyoming. People have always been telling me I’m not good enough to live my dream. That can be hard to hear over time. It has been hard. It forces me to ask myself why I’m doing this. Do I love it? I do."
This underdog mentality has never been more relevant for Brett as he gears up for the greatest challenge he will likely ever face—trying to become an NFL quarterback.
His style of play is similar to Johnny Manziel’s but seems to be more controlled and a bit more physical. At 6'2", 210 pounds, Brett’s frame has more potential than Manziel’s. He also is one of the more accurate quarterbacks I’ve seen this year, especially while throwing from a compromised situation.
During his three-year career at Wyoming, Smith threw for nearly 9,000 yards behind a lackluster offensive line.
Unfortunately, Brett Smith has a real chance of not being drafted after failing to receive an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine.
However, I believe that if and when he’s given a chance to compete for a starting job, he will not only win the job, but he’ll hold onto it for several years down the line.
Blake Bortles, Central Florida
This big, athletic quarterback out of the University of Central Florida is the type of prospect NFL execs drool over. He has the size, arm, athleticism and leadership you look for at the position.
Many out there liken his game to that of a Ben Roethlisberger—though we can’t say whether Blake Bortles’ NFL success will compare, Big Ben does appear to be his closest comparison.
Of all the QBs in this class, Bortles appears to have the most upside. His prototypical frame suggests he can take an NFL beating over a 20-game stretch.
He’s also the type who understands how to take over games and elevate the talent around him using both his legs and his arm. For his career, Bortles completed almost 66 percent of his passes.
Though he may not be the most accurate QB, he does have enough accuracy to be successful, which coincides yet again with the Roethlisberger comparison.
Watching Bortles in interviews, general managers can't help but feel extremely comfortable with Bortles leading their team. He has the presence of a leader and commands respect with the way he carries himself.
He may not turn out to be the best quarterback from this class, but the potential is certainly there to put himself in the argument.
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
One of the first things to impress me when watching Teddy Bridgewater’s game film is his crisp, clean and decisive footwork. This fundamental is where it all starts for his accuracy and impressive zip on the ball.
If you’re judging Bridgewater’s NFL potential primarily on his subpar pro day, you will probably be missing out on one heck of a prospect at quarterback.
This kid can have enormous success from the pocket, but expect a considerable adjustment period to the NFL game. Much of his success at Louisville came with giant passing windows and talented weapons.
Like any QB in this class, Bridgewater comes with his own set of concerns and questions.
At 6’2”, 214 pounds, some teams are worried his frame won’t hold up to the abuse. This is a similar criticism that Manziel also faces.
His pre-draft measurables indicated a much less athletic prospect than teams were initially expecting, and his arm strength is nothing to separate him from the crowd.
With these shortcomings applied to his attributes, Bridgewater’s character, intellect and psychological makeup will be even that much more important in determining his success.
It would be interesting to see how he fairs in non-ideal conditions trying to throw into tight windows. My worry is that we haven’t seen enough sampling of this to feel confident with the ability.
I can see he is a tough competitor with poise, but most of the completed balls he throws are at wide-open receivers by NFL standards.
Essentially, this means he will have to eventually become one of the smartest people in the National Football League if he is to ever hold the label as an elite professional.
Looking through this prism, I see a guy who should end up becoming a very solid starter in the NFL and will plateau as a mid-level guy somewhere between the 12-20 range.
Derek Carr, Fresno State
Derek Carr believers, such has ESPN’s Jon Gruden, tend to put a high emphasis on either a strong arm or out-of-this-world stats.
The Carr naysayers worry that he might be a paper dragon perfectly contained within the confines of a stat-friendly system loaded with short passes and very few reads. In addition, three of the primary targets Carr was throwing to were invited to the NFL combine.
Carr is widely considered to have the strongest arm in this draft class, rivaled only by Pittsburgh’s Tom Savage. As we are all well aware of by now, a strong arm is always going to intrigue NFL clubs in need of a quarterback. However, it could be traits he shares with his bigger brother, former first-round pick David Carr, that may scare most teams out of first-round consideration.
Per Jason Cole for Bleacher Report:
Many observers believe that [David] Carr’s confidence was in lockstep with his statistical regression. By 2007, Carr was out of Houston, landing in Carolina for a season and then with the New York Giants. He never became a starter again, a victim of almost Pavlovian fear, one coach indicated.
Though Cole talks about a lack of protection early in David’s career leading to his demise, I tend to think Carr’s natural tendency was always to buckle under such conditions.
The trait I’m referring to is much more essential than an elite NFL arm. Any quarterback who lacks poise under pressure has no shot at sustaining prolonged success as a starter in this league.
Unfortunately, Carr does suffer from an extreme lack of poise when the pocket gets messy or a defender is in his face, which is a weakness QBs cannot afford to have at the NFL level. In a revealing article, ESPN’s Kevin Seifert explains:
Carr did not react well when under pressure, completing just 30.9 percent of his passes in those situations, the lowest among all 10 quarterbacks in this group. He also had this group's worst completion percentage (43.9) when outside the pocket.
I consider this to be the kiss of death for any quarterback looking to make it as a starter. Think about it. Name a starting quarterback in the NFL who completely falters under pressure, and you will probably be naming a guy whose team is currently looking to replace him.
Carr is worthy of being drafted in the NFL and could very well shake off those tendencies he displayed at times in college, but drafting him in the first round seems like an unwise risk similar to the one Cleveland made when it drafted Brandon Weeden.
Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
This kid may be from a small school (Eastern Illinois, alma mater of Tony Romo and Sean Payton), but his talent is real and has officially caught the attention of scouts and GMs from all across the NFL landscape.
Jimmy Garoppolo has thrown for 13,156 yards with 118 touchdowns and 51 interceptions while completing 63 percent of his passes. He has been a four-year starter for Eastern Illinois and is currently the school's career leader in completions (1,047).
He stands 6’2” and 226 pounds with relatively small hands at 9.25 inches.
Thanks to a solid collegiate career and all of his success during the pre-draft festivities, he has a very real shot at becoming the first FCS quarterback since Joe Flacco to be drafted in the first round.
The attribute that stands out the most when watching him throw is his lightning-quick release and impressive zip on the ball.
However, Garoppolo needs to make better decisions at times, which could come with more experience working through his progressions. Some quarterbacks never acquire the split-second decision-making or the anticipation required to excel in this area, which is partly why it's so difficult to predict success at the position.
In addition, it appears as though Garoppolo will have to have most of his success from inside the pocket. It seems as though anytime he runs around and leaves the tackle box, it rarely turns into a positive play.
Garoppolo can end up being a productive starter in the NFL some day, but counting on this outcome would be a risky projection. His value falls somewhere in the middle rounds of the draft as more of a project-type quarterback. However, it only takes one team to fall in love with this guy and take him in the latter part of the first round.
AJ McCarron, Alabama
AJ McCarron possesses the ideal frame for an NFL quarterback and seems to have the demeanor of a guy who can have success at the next level. He reminds me a lot of Brad Johnson, who played for the Vikings and won a Super Bowl for the Buccaneers.
This kid is not overly athletic and does not have the rocket arm that usually lands a prospect in the early part of the first round. But he is, in fact, a proven winner.
This is a guy who will need a strong supporting cast around him and will not hold up under a collapsing pocket. If you try throwing McCarron into a bad situation—much like what Andrew Luck has been faced with the last two years—you will never have success with him under center. A pretty high-functioning system will already need to be in place if you want this guy to yield positive results.
Per ESPN's Kevin Seifert,
Since the start of the 2012 season, McCarron has completed 54.7 percent of passes thrown 25 yards or longer, the highest mark of any qualified quarterback. Of his 53 total passes in this category, he threw 17 touchdowns without an interception.
Zach Mettenberger, LSU
Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio recently reported that Zach Mettenberger tested positive for having a diluted urine sample, which counts as a failed test under the NFL's drug program.
However, Mettenberger’s physical therapists are claiming this is all part of his rehabilitation process. Per Florio, Mettenberger "was experiencing frequent muscle cramping during the day as well as at night while trying to sleep." He was advised to drink "as much as 1 to 1.5 gallons of water per day, to increase his consumption of foods high in potassium, and to increase his sodium intake."
Aside from these surprising developments, which could hinder his draft value considerably, the former LSU product has been receiving nothing but ringing endorsements.
Mettenberger (6'5", 224 lbs) certainly possesses the physical skills to have a highly successful NFL career. He has a big-time arm and great pocket presence to go along with his strong frame and build, reminiscent of Ben Roethlisberger.
He does need to improve his footwork, which should tighten up his throws and help with overall accuracy. His feet are also incredibly slow, which will make it difficult for him to avoid rushers in the NFL and will force him to become an efficient pocket passer.
His improved decision making has been a very promising development in his game from his junior to his senior year.
Before tearing his ACL during his senior season, Mettenberger was a prospect who was climbing the ranks. His stock and draft value were certainly trending upward.
Slow feet and a history of injuries could cause him to drop into the middle rounds, where some team just might end up with one of the biggest steals of the draft. His upside is attractive, and it is certainly worthy of a close look for any team looking for an upgrade at the position.
Tom Savage, Pittsburgh
Tom Savage is a meteoric prospect with a rocket arm and impressive size. He is accurate from various positions, whether standing in the pocket or on the move within short-to-middle zones.
His passes fly off the hand with the incredible zip you might expect from a man who is 6’4”, 228 pounds. He uses his size well when making plays with defenders draped all over him. As such, he is strong and fairly mobile for a guy his size despite having slow feet and subpar footwork.
The big knock on him from my film study is the frequency in which he makes incredibly iffy decisions. Clearly he needs more practice in read progressions than most of the quarterbacks in this draft.
Any team daring enough to take Tom Savage in the first round is crazy. This guy does have a lot of tools to work with, but having that sort of confidence in him to be a franchise QB is mind-numbing. Savage only completed 56 percent of his passes during college and threw for fewer yards than any of the top quarterback prospects in this draft.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and writes for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter if you have any questions.