Wednesday, March 26, 2014

NFL Draft 2014: Quarterbacks

See, I told you I was going to do it again for real this year!

So this is my rundown of most of the main quarterbacks who are eligible for the 2014 draft. If there is anyone missing who you think should be on here then leave a comment and I may come back and do a part 2 at a later point. Chances are though that if they're not on this list then they're unlikely to be drafted at all.

Let's dive right in then. Oh, before that, just remember that this list is not a "Top Ten" etc format. The players are listed in the order that they are because that's how the list I'm working from is organised. You'll have to read my comments about each specific player if you want to know what I think of them.

Blake Bortles, Central Florida
Well, this is embarrassing. I have to start this run down with an apology to Blake Bortles. The other day during my 2014 intro I called him "awful" based on my brief first impression from one game. Turns out it was me that was awful... because I was watching the wrong DVD. We'll get to that in a bit, but suffice to say that I don't normally watch college football so I didn't realise the mistake until I sat down to review him properly, with the right DVD this time.

So Blake Bortles, is he awful? No, he's not. In fact he's pretty good. 

Scouts and analysts are already raving about him because he has the ideal sort of size that NFL teams are looking for in their quarterbacks. He's pretty athletic, though in the NFL the gap between him and the opposition will be reduced markedly. 

As a passer he demonstrated excellent timing and rhythm with his throws, something which will be of particular interest to teams that run a West Coast style offense. His short to intermediate accuracy is very good, though his deep passing will need a bit of work. 

His footwork and movement in the pocket are both excellent, as his awareness of the pass rush. He keeps his eyes downfield and throws accurately even when unbalanced or on the run.

During interviews at the combine he supposedly impressed teams with his intelligence and character. On the field he demonstrated poise even when the chips were down and held his offense together. 

If I had any knocks against Bortles it's the accuracy of his deep passing and the fact that sometimes his decision making can be questionable once his first look is covered. Broadly speaking though I think Bortles is pretty good. 

Is he a top five pick? Hmm, possibly. He certainly has all the basic tools for a team to build on with their own coaches. With some hard work and the right coaching Bortles has the making of a franchise quarterback. I think the limit of his potential really is down to him.

Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Remember I said I was watching the wrong DVD when I called Bortles awful? So who was I watching? Answer; Johnny Manziel. This was the 2013 game against LSU and he was indeed awful. The troubling thing is I didn't see much better in some of his other games with the exception of Alabama, which is odd considering how good Alabama are.

Manziel just strikes me as another Blaine Gabbert, though granted he's not that bad. His physical tools are no match for Bortles and in the NFL I just cannot see him using his feet and running the way he did in college. 

In the pocket he holds the ball far too long. His O-line seems pretty good, yet he does them a complete disservice by holding onto the ball for an eternity and then scrambling around like a mad man at the slightest hint of pressure, taking his eyes off his receivers and looking to scramble.

His passing is only average and in particular his deep passing is not very good. You get the impression watching him that if he didn't have the excellent Mike Evans at receiver then his stats would be a lot worse than they are. Evans baled him out on a number of occasions and in general the Aggies receiving corps covered for a some of his poor decision making skills.

The problem with Manziel is that unlike Bortles there isn't enough to work with. If he was half decent then you could argue that someone could take him and make him into a long term project, but many of the underlying flaws in his game are - at least in my opinion - uncorrectable. 

I'm always amazed that players like Manziel are able to draw so much attention from media analysts. A few good games and some nifty looking stats might have been enough to get people talking ten years ago, but in an era where lots of people are lighting up the stat charts I'm surprised that players like Manziel continue to generate so much interest for what are otherwise average performances at the quarterback position.

Manziel's projection is as a first rounder. I think that would be an awful mistake for a team to take him that high. Perhaps as a late rounder, with someone taking a punt on him as a plan B or C then maybe you could argue the merits of your ability as a quarterbacks coach, but absolutely not a top round talent.

Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
I was trying to think of a good analogy for Terry Bridgewater. And then I saw it; a glass of water. Boring. Safe. Predictable. Unspectacular. Does the bare minimum job required of it. That is Terry Bridgewater on the field.

Passing wise he's competent. Not exceptional, not bad. Just average. Middling. He passes pretty well over short to intermediate distances, but has poor accuracy at range. He passes well enough on the run and going against his body, but never really hits those tight windows that you expect from an NFL quarterback.

His athletic ability is average for college football, and probably sub par for the NFL. He can run in the open field, but so can Eli Manning. Under pressure Bridgewater does an adequate job escaping from a mild rush, without ever really setting the world alight with his escapes. He moves pretty well in the pocket, keeping his feet under him and generally his eyes down field.

All in all Bridgewater looks a lot like a backup quarterback. I can see him being a Ryan Fitzpatrick or a Byron Leftwich, the kind of guy that wanders from team to team providing a steady arm to fall back on but without being the kind of guy you would want to build a franchise around. Just... ok.

Derek Carr, Fresno State
Derek Carr is something of an oddball. It's difficult to assess college quarterbacks who throw as many screens and short passes as Carr did, but in Carr's defense he did look pretty accurate and had good ball placement when throwing some rare deep fades down the sidelines.

The thing that stands out immediately about Carr is his ability to read coverages. Granted, Fresno didn't use a huge array of formations so it's not like defenses had a ton of looks to throw at him but still, I think he did an excellent job of reading the defense and recognising the coverage at a very early stage, then making the appropriate throw.

At his pro day he apparently tried to show scouts and team officials that he could pass the full range by devoting a lot of reps to deeper passes, but there's a difference between pro day passing and game day passing. When coupled with his sometimes erratic movement in the pocket under pressure, his inexperience under center and the lack of a full passing range that probably pushes him into the later rounds.

Now that's for me, I want to make that clear. NFL teams all have their own opinions and supposedly some teams like the Raiders are already on the Carr bandwagon and raring to go. I just feel like a first round pick should be saved for a franchise guy, or at least someone who you're pretty sure will be a franchise guy.

And for me Carr is not a surefire franchise quarterback. He appears to have the mental tools and broadly speaking the accuracy to develop into one given time, but that depends a lot on how his deep passing evolves and how he copes with the pass rush in the NFL.

I just don't think you can be that confident in him to use a first round pick. With his propensity to dump the ball off quickly, a lack of true pocket presence and a lack of timing I can't see how you're going to get him to stand in there and hold on to make those intermediate to deep passes.

Zach Mettenberger, LSU
Mettenberger has been praised highly for his arm strength. It's just everything else that's the problem.

He at least had the opportunity to throw more deeper passes than many of the other quarterbacks. His accuracy and ball placement are not great though. His decision making and reading of the coverage is slightly below average, as he seemingly reacts to what is happening rather than pre-reading the defense.

With the right receivers (tall, athletic types like Larry Fitzgerald) then his weaknesses could be masked somewhat, but then you could say that about a lot of quarterbacks. He lacks the complete package to be anything more than an average, game managing quarterback in my opinion.

Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
Here's what I saw; screen, screen, screen, dump off, screen, dump off, dump off, dump off, screen, dump off, screen etc.

It seems that there's a lot of people talking Garoppolo up as possibly a second round pick, maybe even a first rounder. Let me just make one point that says everything that needs to be said; these are the same people who said Blaine Gabbert was "outstanding" and "a franchise quarterback for sure". Okey dokey then.

On the other hand a certain blogger you might know said this of Blaine Gabbert; "If I had a ten foot barge pole, I wouldn't touch Blaine Gabbert with it. In fact, if you gave me your ten foot barge pole, I wouldn't even touch him with that" and "I just don't see how Gabbert can be considered a franchise QB at the NFL level?".

My advice? Say "no" to Garoppolo! 

A.J. McCarron, Alabama
Right, let's get the "Alabama Issue" out of the way first. By that I mean all the talk about how McCarron has only had success because he plays for Alabama and because they have such a strong O-line and receiving corps. It's true that Alabama are loaded on offense, but that shouldn't take away from McCarron's individual skills and performance.

The O-line might have been strong, but it wasn't infallible. They certainly had their days where people gave them a rough ride and I think McCarron coped with that admirably. His movement in the pocket is good, as is his general footwork.

Passing wise he made all the throws that you would expect from an NFL quarterback, whether it's short, intermediate or deep. He doesn't have the strongest arm in the world, but it's strong enough. His accuracy is good and when you consider he suffered a lot from receiver drops his numbers could have been even higher, without the stat inflating effect of throwing 30+ screens and short passes per game like many other college QB's.

The main knocks I would have against him are that sometimes he takes the safe option when he has a receiver open deeper across the middle and that he's not a very athletic individual so when things break down he doesn't have the speed or elusiveness to recover the play like some other quarterbacks.

Broadly speaking though it's difficult to pick flaws in McCarron's game. He was solid throughout what I saw and demonstrated the ability to both pick apart a defense slowly and to make big plays down the field when needed. He stills need a bit of work, but as far as I'm concerned McCarron is easily the most "pro ready" quarterback that I've seen this year. Should be a first round pick.

Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Good athlete. Mediocre quarterback.

When you hear about "system quarterbacks" this is what people are talking about. Lots of screens and quick hitters, but almost nothing down the field. I saw a couple of decent deep fade passes but that was about it. His vision downfield is poor and he often misses multiple downfield opportunities in favour of the easy dump off. 

Boyd might have a future in the NFL as a running back perhaps, but he's not a quarterback by NFL standards. Not in the slightest.

Brett Smith, Wyoming
Smith has pretty good accuracy. And that's about all I could find to say good about him. Another screen, screen, dump off, quick slant type quarterback (think I'm going to start calling them "a Blaine Gabbert"). I saw one throw that went beyond 10 yards, which granted was quite good, but then the receiver was wide open so you'd expect it to be. He didn't move well in the pocket and just generally looked shaky. A seventh round/undrafted long term project at best. And that's probably being a little generous.

Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
Christ. A Blaine Gabbert.

Stephen Morris, Miami
Just shoot me now. Awful.

David Fales, San Jose State
God almighty. Fales, fai.... wait, he's actually pretty good.

It happens every year, without Fale. I mean fail (ok, no more fales/fails jokes). Every year a good quarterback manages to sneak completely under the radar, with barely anyone talking about him. Normally this is caused by a very particular ailment that I like to call "notplayingforanEastCoastteamitis". And this guy, ladies and gentlemen, is this years winner.

Fales is actually really, really good, which is all the more impressive for the simple reason that his offensive line and receivers were bloody awful. And I do mean bloody awful.

Let's get some of the bad points out of the way first. When the pocket collapses he kind of struggles. He doesn't really have the athletic ability to break out and run or the strength to fight off defenders hanging off his jersey. Part of the problem though is his O-line, who will randomly take it in turns to drop backwards unnecessarily and block off off his lanes to step up in the pocket.

His long passing down field is also a little suspect. Basically his arm isn't that strong so he has a tendency to under throw receivers who are going long. Consequently they have to pull up a little short and that gives defenders a chance to catch up and make a play. He also didn't spend much time under center which might concern some teams, though he didn't seem to have any problems on the few occasions that he did take conventional snaps.

On to the positives. Accuracy was very good. Timing on short to intermediate throws was very good. He is pretty good at reading coverages and finding the holes in the zones, though sometimes he doesn't recognise corners blitzing off the slot receiver.

His footwork is ok and his passing on the move needs some work, but generally he pushed the ball down the field well and wasn't afraid to hit intermediate or deep crossing patterns even if he had something safe and short underneath. 

By no means is Fales a complete quarterback, he still needs a bit of work, and his size will see him marked down by some compared to a quarterback like Bortles, but I would hands down prefer to take this kid over someone like Manziel or Bridgewater. I think he has the makings of a first round, franchise quarterback, but probably is a safer bet in the second or third. 

His current projection is rounds 4-6 which I think would be a steal. Pretty impressive. At that price he can't Fale to be a bargain... ok, ok. I'm moving on now.

Aaron Murray, Georgia

That sums up my opinion of Aaron Murray quite nicely. He had some nice throws at times but by and large he was average. He threw some really bad interceptions and just generally didn't look like anything more than a run of the mill college quarterback. In the NFL he looks destined for a career as a clipboard holder, the kind of guy that can come in for emergencies and make a few plays but who you wouldn't want to stake your franchise on.

Jeff Mathews, Cornell
I have no idea where Cornell is, but I've learned two things about that university; firstly, that their receivers need to work on their catching. Like, a lot of work. Secondly, that they developed a hell of a quarterback in Jeff Mathews.

Just looking around to see what people have been saying and where he's projected, the next thing I've learnt is that there is a significant amount of utter drivel being written about Mathews (and indeed other quarterbacks). For example, questions about his accuracy are laughable in the extreme.

Mathews threw a full passing tree with Cornell and demonstrated the ability to make every throw. Indeed, he makes throws that many NFL quarterbacks cant even make. He has an absolute cannon of an arm and that's despite not having the greatest technique in the world. Cleaned up, it could get even more ridiculously powerful. He reads the field well and contrary to what many people have written I can see absolutely no evidence that he stares down receivers.

On the downside he's not exactly a great athlete and sometimes he takes his eyes off the field and down to the pass rush a little quickly. His footwork is a little clumsy and he doesn't seem to have taken a single snap from under center which could cause problems in some offenses (especially when combined with his footwork).

But all in all Mathews strikes me as an outstanding quarterback prospect. Again, I'd rather have this kid in the first round than Manziel or Bridgewater or a number of other prospects. He's just got that easy, effortless quality about his play, almost like he's dominating the game despite still being in second gear. Projected as a late round pick (though climbing it would seem) I think he's great value anywhere outside of the first round, and that's purely because of the technical flaws and lack of under center play. 

Really, really good quarterback.

Bryn Renner, North Carolina
Not quite a Blaine Gabbert. He deserves more credit than that. And I'll give him a slight nod on account of his O-line being pretty bad. But there really isn't much to him. He's not a particularly accurate quarterback and that's saying something given how many short passes he threw. He doesn't make any throws that catch the eye. His pocket presence is poor. Overall not really much of a prospect.

Keith Price, Washington
Meh, a Blaine Gabbert. Only a little more athletic. I've seen him described as a developmental prospect. If they mean as a running back then ok, but as a quarterback? No.

Tyler Russell, Mississippi State
Seemed to throw more interceptions than touchdowns. Another Blaine Gabbert.

Chase Rettig, Boston
Ok, if you want to talk development prospects then this is more the sort of player you're looking for. Rettig is a pretty competent passer, with a good range of passes on film and some good accuracy.

His pocket presence is a little sketchy right now and his arm strength is not brilliant so some of his deep balls tend to come up a little short. Overall though he's not a bad quarterback. I get the impression watching him that he still has more that he can deliver, with a bit of time and some decent coaching. A decent late round project.

Connor Shaw, South Carolina
Another good prospect to be a later round project. Shaw demonstrated an excellent range of passing at South Carolina, though his accuracy sometimes wasn't the greatest. Arm strength is good without being exceptional. A bit of coaching on his technique could perhaps extract a little more power out of it.

He did a lot of running, but isn't quite athletic enough to pull that off on a regular basis at the next level. His movement and awareness in the pocket needs some work, particularly some coaching attention to keep his eyes down the field.

Overall not a bad young player. I can easily see him being one of these people that sits behind a more experienced quarterback for a while, learns, and then one day steps up to the plate himself. Has good long term potential I think.

Brock Jensen, North Dakota
Another pretty good quarterback from a less prominent college. Jensen played both under center and from the shotgun, demonstrated a good range of passing, and was pretty accurate with some nice touch throws. Not the biggest arm in the world, but a solid performer who read the field well. And again, frankly, if I had the choice I'd rather take him over Manziel or Bridgewater. I think he's a much more rounded prospect who I'd be comfortable taking outside of the first two rounds.

Right, that's pretty much it for the quarterbacks. Next up is running backs which I'll probably get done before the weekend. The draft always seems to rush up from nowhere just when you think you have all the time in the world, and there's a lot of work still do.

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Anonymous said...

Very good analysis man. Found this site thru a link on comments. Tom Savage is another QB you should take a look at

Chris said...

Hey dude, thanks for stopping by. Appreciate it and the kind words.

I didn't have Savage on my list but I saw him by accident when I was looking at Pitt receiver Devin Street. If I have time before the draft I may come back to him and possibly a few other players that have slipped through the cracks. It might even have to be after the draft, but what I saw of him warrants a closer look like you said.