The quarterback position is always the focal point of the NFL Draft. It’s the position that makes or breaks an NFL franchise, gets coach’s playoff berths or gets them fired, and allows teams that are “rebuilding” to sink or swim with the talent around the quarterback.
So after most team’s punted on taking a quarterback last year, as EJ Manuel was the lone first rounder, as many as six teams could be quarterback hunting in the top 10 picks, while over half the league could use and upgrade or developmental project at the position.
1. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Teddy Bridgewater doesn’t have elite arm strength. He doesn’t have ideal hand size or body type. And he doesn’t hail from a school known for producing great NFL quarterbacks. But Teddy Bridgewater is not only a legitimate NFL prospect, but the only quarterback in this class I’m confident can become a very good NFL starter.
With placement across the field a plus and his ability to finish plays when not completely set two of his biggest passing strength, Bridgewater’s composure, decisiveness, and eye movement will allow him to compete early in the NFL as a starter. Developed in the key areas of the game mentally and having gained the respect of near every coach he’s faced in his career, Bridgewater is the type of passer, commander, and team manager you want in a franchise quarterback. He’s the only passer I’d feel comfortable spending a top five pick on in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Best Fits: Jaguars, Raiders, Texans
2. Blake Bortles, Central Florida
Blake Bortles's lack of development is what's keeping him from being a worthwhile first round pick in my eyes. His release is too elongated, his footwork is atrocious and leads to poor throws, and he doesn’t use the subtle areas of playing quarterback to his advantage. He’s in need of a good year of NFL coaching before I’d feel comfortable sending him out to be my starter.
That being said, his body type, athleticism, arm strength, and downfield accuracy reminds a lot of Andrew Luck, and that’s likely the ceiling (minus Luck’s elite football IQ) that coaches will feel they can get Bortles to. I think he’ll end up as a top 20 pick, but I hope for his sake that he lands on a team that isn’t looking for a quick fix at quarterback.
Best Fits: Texans Vikings, Cardinals
3. Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
Possessing a remarkably quick release and ample arm strength, Garoppolo is able to deliver the ball quicker than any quarterback to his receiver once he finds an opening. He has plus athleticism in the pocket, NFL-level football IQ and play understanding, and experience in adjusting plays at the line of scrimmage. Add in the fact that he’s a trusted and respected leader, both in college and during the all-star circuit, and it’s clear why almost every team will be targeting Garoppolo at some point in this draft.
He does hail from a smaller school, so he’ll need to adjust to the speed of the game quite a bit, and his footwork in even basic drops and rollouts is in need of ample coaching. But that being said, his mental capacity and arm talent should keep him from escaping the Top 100 picks, and he could go as high as the early second round.
Best Fits: Jaguars, Eagles, Bears
4. Derek Carr, Fresno State
Derek Carr has the best arm and the most college production of any quarterback in this class. However, he still needs ample work before he can become a consistent NFL starter, and for that, I don’t feel he’s a Top 10 worthy quarterback.
In a very timing, pre-snap based offense, Carr struggles with his placement when his receivers are knocked off of their initial routes, leading to erratic passes and, at times, poor decision making. His footwork is a major concern, lacking the lateral quickness in the pocket to evade tacklers at an NFL level, and forcing him to be a pure arm thrower on touch passes. His arm strength is remarkable, and work ethic and character-wise, he’s certainly worth working with. But any team expecting him to be a day one starter is asking for frustrations and potentially stunting his growth.
Best Fits: Bucs, Vikings, Cardinals
5. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Manziel being fifth doesn’t imply that I think he can’t be a very good NFL starter. This quarterback class has a handful of developing passers that could emerge to be among the best in the NFL, and Manziel is one of them. That being said, I think he needs plenty of work before I’d trust him to be the long-term answer for my team at quarterback.
His creativity, athleticism, and ability to beat teams on the move is certainly appealing, especially in today’s game. Combined with his plus hand size, adequate velocity, and confidence throughout his game is why I’d love to have Manziel in the second round. But his pocket movement, footwork, and decision making will all likely be highlighted concerns and far more of issues than they were in college. He could play early and have some NFL success, but the fear that he won’t adequately develop or the injury concerns lead me to believe he’d be best in slowly becoming an NFL starter.
Best Fits: Vikings, Browns, Cowboys
6. Zach Mettenberger, LSU
I’m a big fan of Zach Mettenberger as a passer, as I think he possesses a big NFL arm, placement across the field, plus anticipation of a defense, and limited hesitate to deliver passes when under pressure. However, the ACL injury late in his senior season, already concerns about his lack of mobility, and the character concerns he has in his past may end up pushing him to Day Three of the draft.
Best Fits: Cardinals, Vikings, Patriots
7. AJ McCarron, Alabama
AJ McCarron gets the “game manager” tag as a quarterback, but he’s a bit more than that. With an adequate arm and ample experience utilizing a multi-read offense, McCarron is mentally ready for the NFL. He certainly could flourish outside of a somewhat restricting Alabama offense, but his lack of elite upside athletically or arm talent-wise pus him to more of a low-end 2nd rounder with adequate starter potential.
Best Fits: Jaguars, Raiders, Browns
8. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
Logan Thomas certainly has the size, athleticism, arm strength, and flashes on film that give NFL teams hope he could reach his elite-level ceiling. He’ll remind teams of Cam Newton in what he could develop into, but his consistent inconsistency on film and during the Senior Bowl shows that he may be more of a long-term project that may never reach his full potential, like Terrelle Pryor. If team’s can cure his placement, velocity control, and pocket movement concerns, he could become an NFL starter, but he needs lots of work before he can get there.
Best Fits: Chargers, Cardinals, Texans
9. Brett Smith, Wyoming
A shocking NFL Combine omission, Smith left Colorado a year early thanks to his coaching staff and top receiving weapon departing the program. While mechanically and footwork-wise he needs work, he has plus athleticism and ability on the run, along with a solid arm, to develop in an NFL setting with time. For teams that may view Johnny Manziel as an NFL starter but miss on him early, Smith may be a nice fall back option.
Best Fits: Rams, Browns, Chiefs
10. Aaron Murray, Georgia
Coming off a senior year injury, Murray ended his four-year career as the Georgia starter as one of the best SEC quarterbacks, production-wise, in recent memory. While he is undersized, he has quick feet, composure under pressure, and better than given credit for arm strength. He’ll likely fall to day three of the draft, but I wouldn’t rule out Murray developing into an NFL starter in the future.
Best Fits: Chiefs, Eagles, Falcons
Just Missed: David Fales, San Jose State; Tajh Boyd, Clemson; Jeff Matthews, Cornell; Keith Wenning, Ball State