2015 NFL Draft: Top 5 Quarterbacks After Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota
Heading into the 2015 NFL draft, we have an Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III type of debate, but even more intriguing. Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are almost certain to be the first two quarterbacks off the board, and it's not much of a debate. What makes it so intriguing, though, is that it's completely up in the air as to who's selected first.
The question then becomes, who are the next best options for teams out there?
The group of quarterbacks after Winston and Mariota may not feature many, if any, instant-impact quarterbacks, but there are a few prospects who have major upside. These players could be the answer for teams who are looking to have someone sit and learn for a season or two, while the team essentially grooms them over time.
The NFL draft isn't short on big-named quarterbacks such as Bryce Petty and Brett Hundley, but where do these players land on the list?
The following quarterbacks were ranked not only by their college statistics, but also by things such as their decision making, accuracy and consistency. The potential round that each quarterback will be drafted is going to be factored in also and will be mentioned after the breakdown of each player.
Cody Fajardo, Nevada
Fajardo draws comparisons to another former Nevada quarterback, Colin Kaepernick. Both can make plays with their legs, and while Kaepernick topped 1,000 rushing yards three times in his college career, Fajardo did it twice.
Interestingly, Fajardo has had a much better completion percentage throughout his college career than Kaepernick did. Fajardo had never fallen below 67 percent until 2014, when he completed just 59 percent of his passes.
The quarterback of the Wolf Pack is an interesting NFL prospect, as he scored a combined 31 touchdowns this year. Fajardo will need to prove that the accuracy that we saw in previous seasons is still there in order for him to be a factor at the next level. He's an interesting prospect for a team that can store him and develop him over time.
Projected: Fifth or sixth round
Chuckie Keeton, Utah State
Keeton is a bit of a wild card when it comes to the draft. The reason behind that is largely due to the fact that he's struggled to stay healthy throughout his junior and senior years. Keeton broke out during his sophomore year, throwing for 3,373 yards, with 27 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. He completed 67.6 percent of his passes, and the hype was growing rapidly.
Then came the injuries.
The talented Aggie couldn't stay healthy from that point forward. He got off to a hot start to the 2013 season, completing 69.4 percent of his passes with 1,388 yards, 18 passing touchdowns and only two interceptions. He also rushed for 241 yards and two touchdowns.
Unfortunately, he injured his knee against BYU in the sixth game of the season, leaving him sidelined for the rest of the year.
When he returned in 2014, Keeton didn't look like himself. He struggled against Tennessee and played only three games before going out with another knee injury. He finished the year with 426 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.
Projected: Sixth or seventh round
Bo Wallace, Ole Miss
Wallace is a player who had some draft hype heading into the 2014 season. Unfortunately, he failed to live up to that hype, as he finished the year with a completion percentage of 60.1, threw 22 touchdowns and tossed 14 interceptions.
The most disappointing part of 2014 for Wallace is that he was paired up with a defense that allowed just 16 points per game, ranking them first in the nation. Having that defense behind him, Wallace could only help the Rebels put together a 9-4 record.
Wallace had little trouble against the weaker opponents, but when facing the big-time programs, he looked mediocre at times. His numbers against Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Auburn, Arkansas, Mississippi State and TCU tell the story. Wallace threw seven touchdowns against seven interceptions over that span.
His real struggles came down the home stretch, and in his final three games of the 2014 season he posted a completion percentage of 46.4 percent. He also failed to throw a single touchdown, while tossing six interceptions.
5. Sean Mannion, Oregon State
The Oregon State product was unable to replicate an incredible 2013 season, and his struggles were largely due to a below-average offensive line. The loss of wide receiver Brandin Cooks was also likely a big factor in the decline. These numbers don't lie, though:
Mannion's drop from 2013 to 2014 is a cause for concern, but the most worrisome statistic is his struggle with accuracy. He missed multiple throws in 2014 that an NFL-caliber quarterback should make. While Mannion's offensive line can take a chunk of the blame, he showed some issues with footwork throughout 2014 also.
Another concern for NFL teams is Mannion's struggles against tough competition. In the games against tougher opponents in 2014, such as USC, Utah, Stanford, Arizona State and Oregon, the Beavers went 1-4, with Mannion failing to do much.
He went 88-of-171 passing, with an average of 186 yards per game, and five touchdowns against four interceptions. While the touchdown-to-interception ratio isn't bad, his team was outscored 176-101 during those five key games.
Projected: Fourth or fifth round
4. Bryce Petty, Baylor
Petty lit the college football world on fire in 2014, as he led a Baylor Bears team that was first in the country in points per game at 48.2. Baylor also ranked fourth overall in passing yards per game with 365.9, showing exactly how much Petty excelled in his final year.
The man who led the highest-scoring team in college football in 2014 had to wait two years for his chance to play. He sat behind Robert Griffin III in 2011 and Nick Florence in 2012, but he made the most of the opportunity over his two years as the starter.
Petty is an interesting prospect, but something that's tough to overlook is his accuracy. He's very inconsistent and will need to improve on that before he gets a chance to play in the NFL. He's a dual-threat quarterback but didn't have gaudy rushing numbers in terms of yards. In 2013 Petty rushed for 14 touchdowns, while tacking on six more in 2014.
While he has a lot of what NFL teams will look for, as he's 6'3" and weighs 230 pounds, according to Ron Clements from Sporting News, he's considered a system quarterback: "Petty threw for more than 8,000 yards with 61 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions the last two years, but is considered a system quarterback who put up monster numbers because of Baylor's spread offense."
Projected: Third or fourth round
3. Shane Carden, East Carolina
Shane Carden seems to be a bit of a dark horse to many NFL fans. He put up some huge numbers in college and showed what he is capable of doing. While it may seem a bit surprising that Carden is ranked so high, consider how much was asked of him when playing at ECU.
As you can tell from the numbers above, Carden threw the ball a ridiculous 617 times in 2014 and 549 times in 2013. In 2013 his completion percentage was more than impressive, and in 2014 ECU ranked third in the nation in passing yards per game at 371.9.
While Carden topped 30 touchdowns in each of the last two seasons, he also rushed for 16 touchdowns combined between the two years. He's a mobile quarterback but has no problem relying on his arm to get the job done.
What the stats don't show us is that in 2014 Carden led the Pirates to a 70-point performance against the North Carolina Tar Heels. He also led an upset road victory over the Virginia Tech Hokies. Carden is a perfect quarterback to draft with the intention to let him learn behind a veteran quarterback for a few seasons.
It wouldn't be surprising to see Carden playing at the next level a few years down the road.
Projected: Third or fourth round
2. Brett Hundley, UCLA
Hundley is a tough guy to figure. He's physically blessed (6'3", 227 lbs.), to say the least, and is capable of hurting opposing defenses with both his arm and his legs. He not only racked up some impressive numbers through the air in his college career, he also rushed for 1,747 yards and 30 touchdowns in three seasons.
So, here's the question about Hundley. Will we get the player we saw against Arizona State and USC, or the one who showed up against Utah and Oregon? Against ASU and USC, he threw for 681 yards, seven touchdowns and only one interception. Against the Utes he was sacked a total of 10 times, and against the Ducks he looked very mediocre, completing 26 passes for 216 yards (5.8 yards per completion).
What does stand out about Hundley over the span of his career is that his completion percentage improved each year, and he also cut down the interceptions each season.
Hundley has been a leader for the Bruins throughout his career, and the combination of speed and a big arm that he brings to the table makes him an intriguing prospect. I don't see Hundley moving into the first round, but he could be one of the first quarterbacks selected after Winston and Mariota.
There's only one quarterback who I believe gets drafted before Hundley.
Projected: Second or third round
1. Garrett Grayson, Colorado State
Out of any quarterback prospect in the 2015 NFL draft not named Winston or Mariota, Grayson is the most intriguing option. Rob Rang from CBSSports.com explains that Grayson has good instincts, athleticism and accuracy. He also breaks down Grayson's ability to throw the deep ball well when given time to step into throws.
Good instincts for the position. Keeps his eyes downfield and shows good spatial awareness to slide up and laterally in the pocket to avoid rushers and extend the play. Good overall athleticism for the position, showing balance and coordination when asked to roll out, as well as good accuracy.
When given room to step into throws, Grayson can hurl it 60-plus yards, giving teammates opportunities to make big plays.
What really stands out here about Grayson is his ability to improve over time. He improved across the board from his junior to senior year. While he didn't get much time on the field in his first two years, he's obviously spent time improving his game, and the numbers tell a story.
Grayson is accurate, but does need to work on becoming more consistent. His ability to throw on the run is something that will push him up the draft boards of many teams.
One big question about Grayson is whether or not he can excel against a higher level of talent. While he led the Rams to a 10-3 record in 2014, they failed to win the Mountain West Conference title. Grayson was strong when the Rams faced the Boise State Broncos, as he threw for 434 yards and three touchdowns, but he also tossed two interceptions.
Grayson is a player who'll continue to improve, and in the right system, or with the right mentor, he could have a very bright future in the NFL.
Projected: Second round