Quarterback is the most important position in football. The quarterback is the signal-caller, the player who makes things happen for his team. A good quarterback may not make a team into a championship squad, but a bad quarterback can definitely send a franchise back several years.
For struggling teams, it's a good thing that quarterback is such a significant position, given that this year's NFL draft harbors the best crop at that position that we have seen in many, many years.
Despite Marcus Mariota deciding to return to Oregon, the crop remains strong as a slew of underclassmen have declared. Their talent, combined with a strong class of senior quarterbacks, makes this not only a strong group compared to other quarterback classes, but the strongest position in the draft.
The top three quarterbacks could realistically go in the top five selections, as the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns all need a franchise quarterback to get back on track.
Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater was considered to be the top quarterback in the class before this past season even started, according to Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke. Now, after a great junior season, he is merely a top-three quarterback in this class.
That's not the result of anything Bridgewater did wrong. He is still a top talent and will turn a franchise around. Rather, that's a testament to the strength at the top of this quarterback class.
Johnny Manziel, after just two seasons at Texas A&M, has already established himself as a dynamic player, and despite a height disadvantage, it looks increasingly likely that he will be the first player selected, which is only fitting as he will be able to remain in Texas should the Houston Texans select him at No. 1.
While Manziel and Bridgewater are already known, the University of Central Florida's Blake Bortles seems to have come out of nowhere. Instead of being a face of college football, he has simply been someone who has impressed scouts with his awareness and arm strength, and that has rocketed him up draft boards.
Those three are not the only ones projected to be first-round selections, however. While a few teams badly need quarterbacks, this class is strong enough that many other teams who could use help at quarterback could invest. The Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have starting quarterbacks for next year, but the class may look special enough to convince them to grab one early.
As for other first-round possibilities, Derek Carr has kept his name in the loop thanks to monstrous numbers at Fresno State.
I may not be convinced of his talent, but I have said my piece on him already, and it only takes one team to fall in love with a player and make the jump—and the positives that Carr has in his game mean a team will take a shot on him.
Even after those four are selected, what makes this class great is the second tier of quarterbacks. A.J. McCarron of Alabama and Zach Mettenberger of LSU are not going to be dynamic players in the NFL, but they can have more than serviceable careers with their skill sets. At worst, they would be good game managers who could serve as a backup on any of the 32 NFL teams.
Should most of the above have great careers, that would put the class over the level of 2012's class, which was strong in and of itself. If the potential diamonds in the rough work out as well, the class could be even better.
Aaron Murray of Georgia and Tajh Boyd of Clemson had great college careers, but for various reasons their success does not seem likely to translate to the NFL; as a result, they are likely to be mid-round selections.
There is even a crop of quarterbacks with upside, players who have a large number of flaws but have the athleticism and raw talent to create a decent NFL career for themselves, most notably Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech.
In the end, it's not where all these players are selected in the draft that matters, but how they produce when they get a chance. The 2011 NFL draft saw four quarterbacks go in the first 12 picks, but only one has had a career worth mentioning, and that was Cam Newton.
Unlike that class, I have confidence that the quarterbacks in this class can have great careers in the NFL. While this is far from the legendary quarterback class of 1983, it has the potential to be one that is talked about for years.