With the NFL Draft just around the corner, organizations are crossing their t’s and dotting their i’s in the tedious evaluation process. You can never be too prepared as an organization, especially if you’re in the market for a Franchise Quarterback — and there’s great depth and talent in this 2014 Qb Class.
What exactly is a Franchise Quarterback?
Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger — we know who the obvious names are, but what about the not so obvious ones? Is Jay Cutler considered a franchise quarterback? If not, then is it because he hasn’t experienced success from a wins/losses perspective, or is it the perceived attitude and his propensity for turnovers that keeps him off the list?
What about Joe Flacco? He has nothing but success on his resume.
Is Colin Kaepernick considered a franchise quarterback? He hasn’t hoisted a Lombardi trophy, but he’s flirted with the possibility few times already.
What about Eli Manning? He has two Super Bowl rings and he’s led the league in interceptions thrown , twice — in 2010 and again 2013.
What about Russell Wilson? We all know his story: 3rd round pick with a huge chip on his shoulder, puts in the time and the preparation, was always told that he was too short to play at the next level. For Russell, it must feel great to see the critics eat crow now that he has a Super Bowl ring — in his second year, mind you. Surely Wilson is considered a franchise Qb, right?
So, what is it? What are we looking for when we evaluate these quarterbacks? I can only speak for myself. I am not a fan. No offense to anyone that considers themselves a fan — that’s perfectly fine and well. Fans are what make this game thrive. The thing is, fans don’t see football the way that evaluators do.
I’m a talent evaluator at heart, therefore I have no allegiance to any one particular team. I love the game in its entirety, so I’m able to view things with an open mind. When the question “What is a Franchise Quarterback?” is presented to me, my answer is simple: A Franchise Quarterback is someone who’s talent and intangibles are married to a dedication of their craft.
Every prospect has talent, but do they have the characteristics and intangibles to match? Are they dedicated to football, and do they put in the necessary time to prepare? First thing’s first, the talent has to be there.
Here is my talent prerequisite for Franchise QBs:
- Arm Strength
A quarterback must be accurate with the football — its just that simple. Accuracy is everything! Without it, you’re limited in what you are able to achieve. I believe that accuracy comes natural to some, but you can improve on your accuracy through hard work and preparation.
For example, Drew Brees is naturally accurate at all levels of the field, but, he’s worked his tail off year after year, learning the many nuances of the quarterback position. Drew is also excellent at moving his feet inside of the pocket, buying time and finding passing windows. He’s great at throwing on the move when he’s flushed out of the pocket.
Accuracy on the move can be learned, it can develop through hard work and through practice. But, on the move accuracy is absolutely imperative in today’s game, which leads me to my second prerequisite: Agility.
Agility is something that confuses some people. When I say agility, I’m not talking about mobility. Mobility is nice … IF one uses it correctly. Mobility can be a gift and a curse, though. When used incorrectly, mobility puts quarterbacks in street clothes (see RGIII). Maintaining great footwork inside of the pocket, being able to buy few extra seconds by eluding a blitzing linebacker with a spin, a slide, or a hesitation stutter — that’s agility.
Qb’s like Russell Wilson and Cam Newton don’t grow on trees. Their combination of athleticism, QB-IQ, leadership and arm talent is exceedingly rare. Very few quarterbacks — in the history of football — have what those guys have. Andrew Luck, Alex Smith, and Aaron Rodgers have it too — to some extent (some of them better than the others).
Then there’s Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo … these guys have agility. Their footwork is flawless inside of the pocket and they’re able to manipulate any defense because of it.
Of course, these quarterbacks wouldn’t be successful if they lacked the prerequisite arm strength.
It is in my opinion that a great quarterback only needs but so much arm strength. Take Matt Ryan for instance. Matt is accurate with the football, he’s highly intelligent, and he possess all of the character traits that’s required to be great at the position, yet he doesn’t possess the big-time arm that a Joe Flacco has. Don’t get me wrong, Matt’s improved his arm strength over the years, to the point where it’s deceptively good now. But arm strength (a lack thereof) is Ryan’s biggest weakness. The same can be said for Nick Foles.
Nick Foles was magnificent in his first year under Chip Kelly’s system. He sprayed the ball with great accuracy all over the field: short, middle and deep. He’s accurate in-between the hashes, outside the hashes, and his deep ball falls from the sky and into a bucket. The accuracy is what stands out, but his arm strength is deceptively good — to the point where it almost goes unnoticed. However, you must have a strong arm in order to be an elite NFL quarterback. Accuracy will get you by. But accuracy combined with arm strength gets you respect and it puts defenders on their heels.
Now I’ll go over the personality traits and character prerequisites that must exist when searching for a franchise quarterback:
- Short memory
- Sense of humor
Intelligence. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you hold a bachelors degree in architectural design from Stanford — although it can’t hurt matters, either. Intelligence, in this case, speaks more towards football IQ.
Can you absorb a vast playbook … quickly?
Can you regurgitate the play verbiage to you coaches and teammates … with confidence?
Can you read coverages at the line of scrimmage?
Are you capable of going through your progressions?
Can you locate the safety, post-snap?
Do you read the defender’s body language well? Can you recognize when you need to go back shoulder with the ball, and when to go high or low?
These are the boxes that require checkmarks.
Confidence. For quarterbacks, there is a fine line that they need to tread carefully on regarding their confidence level. There is a distinct difference between confidence and arrogance. Aaron Rodgers walks the line, steps on the line and occasionally crosses over onto the arrogance side of line — but his play on the field backs it up, therefore, he can get away with it.
Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson: these guys all exude confidence without that sour taste of arrogance that tends to rub everyone the wrong way.
Every other characteristic is pretty much self-explanatory, except for a few.
Desire, determination, leadership and availability all go hand-and-hand. You gotta be the first one in the building and the last one out of it. You’re the leader, and that’s what leaders do.
Leaders put in the extra time in the training room — from the cold tub to the hot tub — so that they’re available every Sunday (Thursdays, Mondays and some Saturdays, as well). Leaders make smart decisions when they turn into runners. Leaders eat right; they sleep right. Leaders put extensive time into film study because they have the drive and the desire to be the best.
Leaders are the first to admit to fault, whether it’s a poorly thrown ball that’s intercepted or they hold onto the ball for too long and take a sack — they are the ones to admit fault and move on to the next play.
Leaders are charismatic. Leaders are tough. Pretty obvious, right?
Lastly, Franchise Quarterbacks have a good sense of humor. That doesn’t mean that they have to be comedians, they just have to be quick to recognize the humorous teammates in the locker room. They have to cut it up with the fellows — laugh with them, relate to them. They’re viewed as, “One of the guys,” both from the offense and the defense.
Franchise QB’s earn the respect of the entire team … not just the offense.
From Matt Stafford to Matt Ryan; from Andy Dalton to Andrew Luck … there’s been good-to-excellent Qb prospects entering the league ready to lead their franchise from day one — true freshmen, if you will.
Although I don’t see many true freshmen from the list of 2014 NFL Qb prospects, I do see a few that are ready to lead men right now. I have mostly identified red-shirt freshmen: prospects that may need a year of grooming on the sideline, prior to taking over as the starting Qb for their franchise.
But make no mistake about it, even though I feel that it’s best for some of these guys to take the sit-and-learn approach in year one, several of these prospects are capable of starting right away.
Ideally, I would love to see all of these Qbs sit and learn — initially — but, seldom are circumstances ideal in pro football.
So, without any further adieu, here are my rankings and scouting reports for the 2014 NFL Qb prospects.
Below are my scouting reports for the 2014 NFL Qb prospects, ranked in order from 1–10. I offer a list of positives & negatives as well as a pro comparison of former/current Qb’s who’s physical tools resemble said prospect(s).
1. Derek Carr | Fresno St.
Height: 6’2 3/8″ | Weight: 214 lbs.
NFL Comparison: Aaron Rodgers
- Outstanding arm talent; quick release; tight spiral with excellent RPM’s and velocity. Can throw accurately from a variety of arm slots and release points.
- Naturally accurate on all levels of the field; throws corner fade exceptionally well; master of back-shoulder fade. Throws accurately into tight coverage. Throws receivers open, consistently.
- Incredible college production. Showed vast improvements each and every year.
- Good athlete with sneaky speed. Posted an official 4.69 _40-yard dash and a 34.5″ vertical jump.
- Good at recognizing blitz and adjusting protections, verbalizing to teammates pre snap.
- Has the “It factor.” Special personality traits: accountable, tireless work ethic, natural leader, fiery on-field confidence, relatable. Ultra-competitive.
- Inexperience working from under center. Worked mostly out of shotgun formations, with many bubble screens and one-read concepts.
- Average pocket awareness. At times, seems oblivious to pressure. Holds on to the football for too long at times, resulting in sacks.
- Inconsistent footwork in pocket.
- Above average at the line of scrimmage, but could stand to improve checking out of bad plays and into good plays.
- Gimmicky offense at Fresno St harnesses a true projection at the next level. Hardly ran any play-action, boot-legs, or roll-outs from under center. Ran play-action from pistol and shotgun.
- Small hands: 9 1/4″ at combine.
Older brother David has unintentionally cast a mysterious cloud over Derek’s head. Some question Derek’s potential because of the failures of David, which is ridiculous, in my opinion. Derek has everything that is desirable in a quarterback prospect.
I compare his potential at the next level to Aaron Rodgers, but this is merely a projection. Derek possesses many, if not all of the same attributes that Rodgers possessed coming out of California. Rodgers was fortunate enough to achieve a life-long goal of becoming a first round draft pick, but was afforded the comfort of sitting behind a HOFer for three years.
He was also very fortunate to have landed in such a great organization, at a time where the talent on the team was young and plentiful — sounds ripe for a young signal caller don’t it?
Chances are pretty slim that Derek will walk into a similar scenario, not in todays NFL. However, Derek is familiar with the NFL customs and environment as a youngster growing up watching big brother. Having David in his corner is a good thing, failures and all.
One thing that I find strange: some evaluators point to his final game as a senior vs USC as “bad tape”. While he certainly didn’t perform as well as he had hoped I’m sure (30–54, 217 yds, 2 td, 1 int), he didn’t play bad either.
What’s so strange about it to me is the fact that Teddy Bridgewater was praised for his good play vs Florida in the Sugar Bowl despite having a similar stat line (20–32, 266 yds, 2 td, 1 int). I understand that it all comes down to wins and loses, and Teddy won while Derek lost, but none-the-less strange. Florida’s defense is much better than USC’s obviously, but that’s besides the point. Teddy didn’t play well, period.
Regardless, the sky is the limit for Derek. He possesses ELITE arm talent; from an accuracy and velocity standpoint, there is NO throw that he cannot make. He’s the total package from a personality standpoint, as well.
I’m not surprised that the TV Scouts don’t see it.
Hopefully Derek lands with a good organization. Apparently Cleveland and Oakland are hot for him. It’s the land of smoke screens at this time of year, though. Pundits take their cheap shots at the Oakland organization, which is too easy, but Reggie McKenzie is trying to build something there. Same can be said for Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam. Both destinations would be a vast upgrade over what older brother David walked into as a rookie.
Being the face of a franchise as the #1 overall pick is arduous in itself, let alone when the franchise is an expansion team. Derek’s opportunity will contain far less pressure and far more upside.
2. Tom Savage | Pittsburgh
Height: 6’4″ | Weight: 228 lbs.
NFL Comparison: Jay Cutler
- Second to Derek Carr in terms of overall arm talent, but it’s splitting hairs. Elite arm strength. Consistently throws a tight spiral. Ball explodes off of hand with velocity. When protection holds, his accuracy and ball placement when combined with ball velocity is special to watch. Can change speeds well; puts just enough air under deep ball while maintaining tight RPM’s, hitting his target in stride; Throws to outside hash’s are impressive, appears effortless. Makes big-time NFL throws into tight windows with ease.
- Good feel in the pocket; feels inside pressure well, stands tall and delivers; feels outside pressure equally well, rolling away while buying time to square up shoulders and deliver accurately.
- Good athlete. Speed and explosion is not his game (4.97_40 yard dash, 27″ vert), as he has good functional mobility. Nimble for a large man. Displays nifty spin away from outside blitz defender, looks naturally athletic rolling out while maintaining mechanics. Thick build with strong base, very difficult to bring down.
- Goes through his progressions well, and showed continued improvement as the season went on.
- Great throwing mechanics; consistent. Good footwork, rarely lazy, hardly ever see him throwing off of his back foot. Consistent, 3/4 over-the-shoulder delivery.
- Good character, clean. Had to grow up quick, very mature. Has leadership qualities, still learning as he only has two years experience (NCAA) on his resume. Named captain at Pitt in his only year. Hard worker, determined and patient; very coachable. Can handle criticism.
- Inconsistent accuracy with throws in the middle of the field.
- Has the tendency to hold on to the ball for too long, resulting in sacks.
- Locks on to his intended target too often, telegraphing passes.
- Questionable decision-making at times, not due to confusion from the defense, but more to over-confidence in his ability to make every throw. Needs to get better at throwing out of bounds at initial signs of broken protection, and broken assignments. Like all gifted arm talent, Tom seems reluctant to check the ball down.
- Relatively inexperienced. Transferred twice, missing two years of eligibility due to NCAA rules.
- Limited athlete. Average foot-speed. Attempts to take off and run when flushed from pocket; will need to learn to adjust strategy at next level, as he will be tracked down in general.
Tom Savage is a rare talent. You just don’t find quarterbacks in the draft that possess the total package, from a physical standpoint, that Tom has. His name has attracted draft buzz lately, probably more so than anyone else, and for good reason.
Rarely will you find a room full of evaluators that agree in unison on one player, especially on a quarterback with Tom’s background. Some will feel strongly that Tom is a project at best, suggesting that his lack of experience has placed him too far behind the eight-ball for him to be considered a top Qb prospect.
Others feel that his film suggests he needs lots of work. I disagree with both. There is a happy medium, and that’s where I am. I wouldn’t pass on Savage out of fear, I know that much.
Allow him to red-shirt his rookie season, let him learn, let him absorb the pace and environment of the NFL, let him sit behind a vet for some time and you will have a future franchise quarterback with the elite type of Aaron Rodgers arm talent that every organization covets. But he must be given time.
I think Tom is more Jay Cutler than Aaron Rodgers, but still a unique combo of both. Tom and Jay share a similar build. Tom is bigger and stronger, Jay is faster and quicker. Tom played with talented receivers at Pitt, but otherwise lacked at talent elsewhere. Same goes for Jay at Vanderbilt, perhaps worse.
Both Jay and Tom played in a cold weathered environment. They share the same elite arm talent, too. I like Tom as a prospect much more coming out of college, though. I believe Tom is fundamentally consistent, ala Aaron Rodgers. I like his cool, calm demeanor and resolve. I like his consistent throwing mechanics and I think he is naturally much more accurate than Jay ever was.
The sky is literally the limit for Tom Savage. The ball got rolling late for him. After starting off his collegiate career with a bang, being named the Knights Offensive MVP as a true freshman at Rutgers, he missed 8 games as a sophomore to injury then was put on ice for two years by the NCAA for transfer violations. Many young men would’ve came apart at the seams. I love his mental toughness and overall makeup. All of the desired physical tools are there. This young man is a star in the waiting, if — and it’s a BIG if — he gets in the right hands.
3. Johnny Manziel | Texas A&M
Height: 5′ 11 3/4″ | Weight: 207 lbs.
NFL Comparison: Fran Tarkenton
- Dynamic playmaker and rare play-extender, with unique athleticism, both inside and outside of the pocket. Nearly impossible to contain inside the pocket; consistently eludes would-be defenders, making it difficult to put their mitt’s on him.
- Plays the game with intensity and passion, it ignites his teammates and they match his intensity. A natural born leader. More of a verbal leader, but allows his play to lead as well.
- Carries a distinct swagger with him.
- Ultra-competitor; hates losing more than he loves winning.
- Excellent field vision as a runner. Follows his blockers downfield, allowing holes to open; has an extra gear in the open-field.
- Good speed, especially in short areas.
- Excellent at throwing receivers open; great accuracy, on all levels. As accurate from inside the pocket as he is outside it. Throws the ball with great touch and anticipation; throws a catchable ball. Can put some real zip on the ball when needed.
- Johnny Football moniker is a brand name: ticket sales, jersey sales, tv revenue; instant return on investment from an ownership standpoint.
- Big, all-weather hands: 9 7/8″ official.
- Abandons the pocket too easily; lacks a pocket sense. Needs repetition and refinement in this area. Lacks discipline.
- Slight build, lacks a natural frame for growth. And if he added weight, it would more than likely diminish his speed and athleticism.
- Scheme limited. Will likely never succeed strictly as a pocket passer. He is a bird, and you cannot clip his wings. Allowing him the freedom to play “Johnny Football” style is a double-edged sword for future coaches.
- Seldom takes the easy check-down, choosing to extend the play with his feet, which occasionally lands him in trouble.
- Fights for every inch as a runner in the open field — a destructive mentality that he may not be able to fix. Never slides early to avoid collision, choosing to invite it head-first instead, exposing himself to injury, ala Mike Vick/RGIII. Needs to learn when to get down, when to go out of bounds and live for another play. Commonly leaves the ball exposed as a runner, carrying the ball loosely with one hand like a loaf of bread.
- Lacking in maturity, as a man. Makes questionable decisions off the field. Needs to learn how to say no to people, especially within his inner circle. Needs to surround himself with grown ups. Needs to prioritize better, fully commit to his new profession; stay in the film room, spend extra time with his receivers before and after practice… prove it to your teammates, erase any perceptions early on. Learn the playbook, and execute.
When I was scanning my memories of present and past quarterback play, I was stuck in mud when trying to find a match for a Johnny Football player comparison. I thought of the common names:
Michael Vick? No.
Mark Brunell? Nope.
Steve Young? The similarities exist, but I can do better.
I watched film on Manziel and focused on him as a runner. Then I did the same for Colin Kaepernick. The similarities are striking. Colin is faster; Johnny accelerates more quickly. Colin tucks the ball, eventually, but initially exposes it loosely in one hand, much like Johnny does.
Colin takes more of a direct approach as a runner — is more decisive; sees a lane, puts a foot in the dirt and takes off. Johnny does too … eventually. Initially, Johnny dances around, twisting and turning, stopping and starting.
I heard so many stories of Fran Tarkenton but I had never seen him play, so I went on a youtube search and I discovered a mirrored revelation.
See for yourself …
As you can see, the Manziel-to-Tarkenton comp is remarkably accurate.
Johnny Manziel’s style of play is not for everyone. Personally, I love it. I find his undisciplined, free-wheeling style both exciting and refreshing. I think he’s good for the game of football. From an evaluation standpoint, the same style of play that excites me as a fan frustrates me as an evaluator.
Will Johnny’s elite college production transition to the NFL?
Can Johnny learn to add other elements into his repertoire, can he execute offense from within the pocket when he is asked to?
These are legitimate questions that no one has the answers to right now.
All I know is there’s one former player, a Hall of Fame’r, that excelled as a pro playing with the same style that Johnny plays with — and that man’s name is Fran Tarkenton.
Did Fran’s style frustrate the hell out of his coaches? You better believe it. Fran was traded twice in his career because of it.
But did his style of play work? Was Fran successful?
Well, he’s a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame; he’s a 9x Pro Bowler; he was the MVP of the league, once; and he was a winner, leading the Vikings to the Super Bowl three times in his career.
That was then and this is now, right? Now, defenders are faster, stronger, smarter, better. It worked remarkably well for Manziel in the college ranks, so why couldn’t it work for him in the pros?
They had nicknames for Fran, too, like “Frantic-Fran” and “The Mad Scrambler,” due to his penchant for scrambling in the backfield then firing strikes to his receivers. The LSU game was “bad tape” for Johnny. LSU’s coaches and players showed the rest of the FBS how to successfully game plan and defend Johnny Manziel. The problem with that was, everyone now had the blueprint but no one else had the personnel to execute it.
If Johnny wasn’t accurate with the football after his mad scrambling routine was finished, then all of it would be for nothing … it wouldn’t be a show. But Johnny is a show — a big-ticket show.
It will take a particular coach — a particular organization — to truly reap the benefits of Johnny’s talents; a patient coaching staff that trusts Johnny and allows him to play within himself. I believe that the perfect fit exists in Philadelphia, with Chip Kelly and the Eagles coaching staff. Who knows? But whoever selects Manziel better be in it to win it. Regardless, Johnny has a bright future ahead of him, just as long as he keeps his priorities in order and chooses football first in his life.
4. Jimmy Garoppolo | Eastern Illinois
Height: 6′ 2″ | Weight: 226 lbs.
NFL Comparison: Jake Delhomme
- Ultra quick release with a compact set-up. Ball comes out tight and with velocity. His quick release is what sets him apart from other prospects.
- Good, clean, consistent footwork and mechanics.
- Good overall accuracy, especially short to intermediate. Excels in the red area on corner throws to the back pylon and on fade routes. Puts in the practice time with his wide outs, showing excellent timing and rhythm that shows up on film.
- Good, functional athlete. Not a speed guy — ran a 4.97_40 yard dash — but appears faster on film. Good quickness and acceleration. Nimble feet; buys time with good, quick feet. Good bulk.
- High football IQ; advanced in the nuances of the quarterback position. Uses head nods, shoulder positions and eye deception to manipulate safeties. Appears to hold excellent command at the line of scrimmage. Understands hot reads, alerts and protections; displays good communication skills at LOS. Good intangibles; leader; team captain.
- Played in the FCS vs mostly marginal competition and average speed. Hasn’t seen the type of closing speed on defense that these other Qb’s have faced on a regular basis — a major difference, in every way, from FCS to FBS competition.
- Inconsistent accuracy with deep ball; puts too much air under it at times — sometimes not enough air — then, drops it into a bucket, as well.
- Holds onto the ball, trying to make every play. Does check it down, and knows to dirt it or send it out of bounds when faced with immediate pressure. But when he has time and no one is open, he could stand to improve his internal clock.
- Smallish hands, measuring 9 1/4″ at Scouting Combine. Not a big deal.
I’m sure that Jimmy Garoppolo was hoping that winning the Walter Payton Award — an award given to the best player in the FCS — would bring him some national recognition as he prepared for the Combine … and it did.
Little did he know that SEC darling, AJ McCarron, had his focus on preparing for the Combine as soon as his career commenced — which, in turn, opened up the door for Garoppolo to gain major visibility. McCarron bypassed participating in the Senior Bowl, so the invite went to Garoppolo, instead. After winning MVP of the East/West Shrine Game, Jimmy parlayed that and has rode the gravy train since. He’s taken full advantage of every opportunity when it’s shown up at his door, and now his name is being linked to late first, early second round projections … not bad for a quarterback from the Ohio Valley conference.
Garappolo has some really good stuff on film; exciting stuff that makes me believe that he could be special one day. His quick feet, his compact setup and his spring-like release is oh so reminiscent of Jake Delhomme, from my point of view. Jake had to take the long road to the pros, but he made the best of every opportunity once he arrived. Jimmy’s path is very similar, but much more direct.
Jimmy will be drafted early, probably on day two. Some staff will fall in love with him. He’s more than a small school Qb with a quick delivery: he’s a legit Qb prospect. Jimmy has the mental makeup, the drive, the confidence, and most importantly, the desired skill set to play at the next level.
I like this kid’s toughness. He wasn’t highly recruited out of high school because he didn’t play quarterback until his junior year. He played on the other side of the ball during those two years … at linebacker. I’m rooting for him. Hopefully he lands with a good organization and is making plays on Sundays in the near future.
5. Zach Mettenberger | LSU
Height: 6’5″ | Weight: 224 lbs.
NFL Comparison: Drew Bledsoe
- Big-time NFL arm. Can fit the ball into tight windows with the utmost of ease. Possesses different speeds as well, can take some heat off of it while maintaining RPM’s. Like a great pitcher, Zach mixes his fastball and his off-speed stuff with precision.
- Possesses accuracy on all levels of the field, especially on big-time NFL throws; deep in’s, deep posts, deep out’s, etc. The velocity combined with the accuracy that his throws generate can humiliate tight coverage. Throws a beautiful back-shoulder fade. Is accurately on roll-outs, as well.
- Excellent poise in the pocket; stand tall. Fires the ball in the face of middle pressure, taking it on the chin while maintaining his composure.
- Generally makes good decisions with the ball, especially in 2013 under Cam Cameron’s guidance. Goes through his progressions well; identifies the one-on-one match-ups.
- Excellent size for the position, with frame to handle added weight gain. Has big 9 3/4″ all-weather hands.
- Sustained an ACL injury and a sprain to his MCL in the season finale vs Arkansas. Had surgery in January. Knee looked stable at LSU’s pro day, relieving concerns many evaluators had regarding the knee.
- Feet aren’t concrete blocks by no means, but he isn’t exactly fleet of foot. A limited athlete and occasionally his accuracy suffers due to his inability to escape pressure when assignments are missed or protection breaks down. Accuracy diminishes dramatically when pushed off of his spot.
- Somewhat a work in progress; still learning the nuances of the position, which is more imperative in his case as a traditional pocket passer (when comp’d to a mobile Qb, like Johnny Manziel).
- Immaturity concerns. Documented issues exist that got him kicked out of Georgia and eventually landed him in LSU, after a cup of tea at Butler Community College in Kansas. The opportunity existed to come clean to Georgia HC, Mark Richt, but Zach lied, resulting in his dismissal.
Zach has the type of arm talent, size, moxie, and decision making that is coveted by coaching staffs in the NFL — it’s the type of talent that has proven to win in this league. He isn’t a good athlete and he isn’t mobile, but that really doesn’t matter. He has quick feet in the pocket, displaying the ability to reset his feet while maintaining his eyes downfield. He has enough foot speed to roll-out, square up and throw strikes with accuracy. He has a live arm, and can attack all levels of the field.
From a talent perspective, Zach has just about everything that coaches are looking for. Watching his film is reminiscent of Drew Bledsoe — in my opinion — in every way, from an arm talent perspective.
His immaturity concerns have put a dent in his draft stock — more so than the knee concerns. Combine the two together and that is the reason why Zach’s name isn’t mentioned with his peers at the top of the prospects list for the 2014 Draft.
The interview process is important to Zach, as he will likely be overly scrutinized. Someone will fall in love with him, perhaps the Houston Texans with the first pick in the second round? Gotta wait until May to find out.
6. Aaron Murray | Georgia
Height: 6′ 3/8″ | Weight: 207 lbs.
NFL Comparison: Rex Grossman
- Experienced, 4-year starter in the talented SEC.
- Ran an aggressive pro-style offense, taking snaps from under center with lots of bootleg play-action. OC allowed him the freedom to take endless chances down field, trusting his decision-making ability. Had full control and command of his offense. Team leader.
- Short in height, not in arm strength. Does not have a big arm but can let it rip; can certainly make every throw. Throws a consistently tight spiral. Can cut it in the wind, despite what some may say (see Georgia pro day workout).
- Accurate on all levels. Leads his receivers, throws to spots; puts good air under his deep ball without losing velocity. Good ball placement; allows receivers to make a play on the ball. Throws accurately on the move.
- Classic, over-the-shoulder throwing motion; identical to his idol, Drew Brees. Quick release. Good, clean footwork; nimble feet on the move.
- Good athlete with deceptive speed. Good at buying time in the pocket, manipulating rushers that over pursue.
- Special characteristics and intangibles: perfect amount of confidence; infectious personality; competitive, humble, humorous; has star qualities; the “IT” factor. Doesn’t take himself too seriously. Stands out in a crowd.
- Film junkie; a perfectionist in practice.
- Gun-slinger mentality with a short-term memory; moves on to the next play, always pushing the pace; keeps an aggressive approach. Plays with poise. Manipulates safeties with head, shoulders and eyes; sells play-action as good as anyone. Makes adjustments at the line of scrimmage, calling hots and alerts, adjusting protections.
- Forces throws that he should dirt or sideline too often.
- Inconsistent mechanics; drops his arm slot and shoulders, allowing for batted balls at line of scrimmage, often enough.
- Over-confident at times, gets himself into trouble.
- Obvious height concern; didn’t hinder his production or ability at the collegiate level, but will have to maintain discipline with his mechanics, stay ever consistent to avoid tipped balls at line of scrimmage.
- Holds onto the football too long, needs to work on his internal clock at the next level.
- Unlike other small quarterbacks that have experienced success at the NFL level (Drew Brees, Russell Wilson), Murray has small hands for NFL standards, measuring 9 1/4″ (compared to 10″& 10 1/4″ for said players).
Aaron Murray is a tough dude. During the second quarter of his final regular season game as a collegiate athlete, a home game versus Kentucky, Murray felt a pop in his knee on a zone/read keep. He picked up 28 yards on the play. He waved off coaches from putting in his back-up, and remained in the game for 13 more plays. He finally realized that he was in trouble and took himself out … torn ACL.
Crazy? Yes. Tough as nails? Yes!
Murray may never be a lot of things, things that the Zach Mettenberger’s of the world may be, but that stuff doesn’t seem to phase him. He strives for greatness, he believes in himself. Height is about the only attribute that truly matters when grading a quarterback that Murray lacks.
Can he succeed as a six foot tall quarterback on the biggest stage? Sure. Why not? Drew has. Same for Russell.
They say that imitation is the most sincerest form of flattery that there is. Murray admires Drew Brees. He tries to emulate him, and it’s obvious just by watching him play.
Now, I’m not saying that Aaron Murray is going to be the next Drew Brees just because of some similarities. What I am saying is, Aaron possesses many, if not all of the same qualities that Drew has. They’re both determined, cerebral, talented quarterbacks that play with a chip on their shoulder because the nay-sayers said that they were too small all of their lives. I watched Aaron impress the hell out of John Gruden at his Qb Camp on ESPN. And I’m in agreement with him, when he said that Aaron will be the steal of the draft.
The last time I jumped up and down on the table for a short quarterback prospect, John did too. Turns out that we weren’t crazy. Russell Wilson is a star, and we aren’t surprised in the least bit. Aaron, if drafted into a good organization, will make some team very, very happy. There is no doubt in my mind about that.
7. Teddy Bridgewater | Louisville
Height: 6’2 1/4″ | Weight: 214 lbs.
NFL Comparison: Alex Smith
- Has outstanding character and strong resolve. His life journey entails overcoming incredible hardship along the way. His mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was just 14 years old. They share a special bond, and he has gathered a great deal of strength from her.
- Very accurate short to intermediate. Throws receivers open and consistently hits receivers in stride on crossing routes. Understands touch; excels on timing routes: you can bet the ball is out of his hand in just under 3-seconds on his 3-step drops. Throws accurately on the move, even across his body, on occasion.
- Protects the football. Cerebral. Understands the value of possessions and field position. Consistently checks down to his backs when going through his progressions and nothing is there.
- Good agility, good mobility. Ran a 4.79 40-yard dash at Louisville pro day. Appears faster on film. Consistently displays excellent footwork in the pocket. Clean. Good at buying extra seconds when forced off the spot, allowing him to reset his feet and hit the open man.
- Sells play-action very well — a staple in the pro-style offense he ran at Louisville.
- A chain-mover, a clock-eater. Outstanding on third down, whether through the air or with his legs. Always seems to beat coverage. Sustains long drives and follows up with 6 points.
- Reads coverages well and audibles to hot reads when necessary.
- A leader by example. Football is important to him. He is a film junkie. Always is looking to get better. Desires to achieve greatness. Puts in the extra time, wherever it is needed.
- Slight frame. Weighed in officially at 214 at the Combine in February, and less than a month later weighed 208 at his pro day…6 pounds in 3 weeks is a not a huge deal, but it is of concern. Potential suitors are asking themselves, “Is this kid capable of gaining weight, or is he still a growing young man with a fast metabolism rate?”
- Smallish hands, measuring 9 1/4″. Not a huge deal, as Colin Kaepernick has the same size mitts. Feels more comfortable playing with gloves on both hands, which became evident after struggling at his pro day, where he decided last minute to ditch the gloves.
- Good arm strength; certainly good enough to move the chains. Can dissect the deep middle of the field, but fails to strike fear when throwing deep outside the hashes.
- Struggles with deep ball accuracy; puts too much air under his ball, consistently over-throwing his intended target.
- Needs to do a better job of recognizing who is blitzing and who is bluffing — pre snap, at the line of scrimmage. Too often he failed to adjust his protection or check into better plays.
- His mechanics are good, but needs to improve upon his release point on quick snaps in short yardage situations. Too often his passes were deflected at the line, due to low release point.
- Confidence may be an underlying issue with Teddy. He has openly said that he gains confidence through his preparation. What if his preparation fails him? At times, seems shaky and unsure of himself; body language appears less strong, when compared to the prototype.
Teddy’s game doesn’t wow you. His size doesn’t wow you. His foot speed doesn’t wow you; either does his arm strength. Flair isn’t a part of Teddy’s DNA. His game is clean and efficient — which equals production, at any level of football. He prides himself on his character; his leadership; his toughness; his dedication; his love of the game; and his decision making and accuracy.
Teddy’s not a lot of things, but he is a winner — both on and off the field. The traits and characteristics that he possesses are that of many successful quarterbacks before him. You’re not going to worry about Teddy’s conduct away from the building, that’s for certain.
Teddy understands the game and he strives to achieve greatness, always searching for ways to improve upon. He’s not a dual-threat quarterback in the same way Alex is, but he’s more than capable of picking up chunks of yards with his feet when plays break down.
He’s a sneaky athlete inside of the pocket, as well, capable of buying extra time, creating throwing lanes with his escapability.
Originally, I comp’d Bridgewater to Sam Bradford … bad comp.
I mean, in my defense, they share similar qualities — but it’s a bad player comparison, all-in-all. Teddy is a smart, accurate, 1st down churning, play it safe, take what the defense gives you, live for the next down type of Qb — which is why I should’ve comp’d him to Alex Smith. Both Smith and Bridgewater are “Game Managers,” and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Unfortunately, the lack of meat on Teddy’s bones naturally concerns some coaches, despite his relatively clean medical record in college. I don’t know if his poor showing at his pro day put a serious dent in his draft stock or not, but if it did, then some organization will be getting major value if he happens to fall out of the first round.
8. Blake Bortles | Central Florida
Height: 6’5″ | Weight: 232 lbs.
NFL Comparison: Matt Ryan
- Excellent size, fits the mold of the prototype quarterback.
- Is a really good, coordinated athlete for being so tall. Lean legs and thin ankles allow for natural flexibility. No track speed, as indicated by his 4.93_40 yard dash at the Combine, but has football speed; accelerates quickly. Legit mobility with unique size and athleticism combination, somewhat similar to Andrew Luck. Good field vision as a runner; patient behind blocks.
- Has natural pocket sense. Excellent at feeling pressure and avoiding disruptions; scales the field while on the move when flushed from pocket, keeping eyes downfield. Great at improvisation.
- Accurate on the move. Throws his receivers open while moving better than any Qb prospect in his class, as good as I’ve seen for a prospect; this is his bread and butter — throwing off-platform, with or against his momentum, across his body … doesn’t matter. Stands tall vs inside pressure and throws strikes from the pocket as well.
- Good, strong arm. Can drive the ball towards the outside hash. Corks up and unwinds a tight spiral on the move, across his body with ease.
- Has the desired character, confidence, and intangibles that you want in a franchise quarterback. Wears the right amount of confidence without permeating a room, like a man that knows how to wear his cologne. Hard worker, leads by example. Has a “follow me” type of vibe to him. A truly natural leader, one that teammates give their all for.
- Cool as a cucumber when the chips are all-in. Led his Knights to four come from behind victories in the 4th quarter this year, none more famous than vs Louisville…down 7–28 with 5 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter, Captain Comeback threw the game winning touchdown in the games closing seconds. Some guys play well in the pressure cooker, Blake thrives in that role.
- Predominately took snaps from the gun. Had elements of a pro offense at Central Florida, but mostly lined in shotgun. Ran lots of zone/read plays. Where is his comfort level under center? Does he prefer the gun with the zone/read looks?
- Was allowed the freedom to ad-lib plays when things broke down, or receivers weren’t open. Capable of read progressions, in fact is well versed, so would fit best if he were allowed to continue in that role, accentuating his strengths.
- Has the type of arm strength where he muscles the ball to where it needs to go with his upper body, as opposed to driving the ball with his hips and lower body, and it shows on his deep ball accuracy; balls consistently get caught in the air. Deep balls flutter; doesn’t get enough on it to drive it ahead of the receiver.
- Needs seasoning. The things that he does well: throwing on the run, throwing off his back foot, that’s stuff that you can’t coach. That’s who Blake is right now. He’s gotta be more than that in the NFL. Throwing with clean footwork, and throwing from the pocket with consistent accuracy, getting the ball out on time — these are things Blake needs to continue to develop at the next level in order to be great.
- Doesn’t appear to have an internal timer, relies on his size and athleticism to buy himself more time, so he holds onto the ball while looking downfield for the play. Takes unnecessary sacks as a result.
- Must develop a safer, smarter mentality when he becomes a runner. Aggressive mentality and tough makeup as an open field runner; seeks contact. Despite his size, he will get hurt with current mentality when mobile.
There’s a lot to like about Blake as a prospect. They say that you can’t teach speed, but you can get faster; you can improve through training. Well, I prefer the old football cliche “you can’t teach size.”
Unlike athleticism and speed, you can’t get taller at 21 years of age. Blake is tall and big. He plays at 230 pounds now, and will likely check in at 240 pounds later down the road. He’s a really good athlete. He has a strong enough arm to be a very good quarterback at the next level. He’s green right now, but, like many of these prospects, with proper coaching, if Blake lands with a good organization he could become a very good quarterback.
Blake has ice water running through his veins — that, I really like. He doesn’t wilt in the heat. He plays his best football when the game is on the line. His 4th quarter heroics put him on the prospect map this year, but his performance in the Fiesta Bowl versus the heavy favorite Baylor Bears jumped him up the prospect list. Blake played the best game of his career on a national stage, now everyone knows his name.
Some evaluators have him as their top Qb prospect, and I get it. I think they are enamored by all the wrong things, mostly his size, but I get it. He’s a big, athletic quarterback that says and does a lot of good things.
Most evaluators see Big Ben when they watch Blake play. There’s no denying (given the similar stature) that there is a resemblance to Ben when Blake is breaking contain and throwing off his back foot. I see more Matt Ryan, though … honestly. Ben had a live arm coming out of Miami Ohio. He could make every throw look easy: off-platform; across his body; back-foot; standing tall in the pocket. Ben had much more arm talent entering the pros than Blake has. I don’t see that changing for Blake.
Much like Matt Ryan, Blake has size and sneaky athleticism working for him. Most fans don’t realize that Matt is a very good athlete. He regularly makes off-platform throws, and he can pick up yards with his feet when necessary. Otherwise, Matt is a gunslinger at heart with the leadership ability and knowhow that a franchise Qb is recognized for — not to mention the ice water in their veins.
I believe that Blake is worthy of first round consideration, but as a mid-to-late first rounder, for a team that has a bridge quarterback that can keep the seat warm for Blake until he is ready to take over the reigns.
9. AJ McCarron | Alabama
Height: 6′ 3 1/4″ | Weight: 220 lbs.
NFL Comparison: Andy Dalton
- Comes from arguably the best college football program in the FBS. Played in several of big games at murderer’s row in the SEC. Has been in the pressure cooker many times and has come out clean as a whistle the more often than not.
- Accurate short to intermediate. Throws a very catchable ball. Consistently throws receivers open, leading his receivers away from traffic and collisions. Throws with good anticipation. Puts good juice into his deep ball, with good ball placement and just enough air under it.
- Excellent poise and pocket presence. Rarely appears rattled at the line of scrimmage. Great pocket awareness; feels pressure and slides or roll’s out appropriately while keeping his eyes on his target downfield.
- Nimble feet. Moves well on the move for his size. Deceptive athlete.
- Excellent decision maker. Very seldom makes mistakes. He values each possession. Rarely does he force throws into coverage, opting to dirt it, sideline it, or scramble. Doesn’t take many sacks.
- Good size. Big mitts, measuring 10″ at combine.
- Good leader with good intangibles. Plays with passion. Exudes confidence. Has that “It” factor.
- Has played every year of his collegiate career in a pro-style offense, taking the majority of his snaps from under center. He has played with NFL star-caliber talent surrounding him on offense and has faced star-studed Nick Saban defenses in practice.
- Good, but not great arm strength. Ball appears to come out flat at times late in games, like he’s experiencing shoulder fatigue. Occasionally puts too much air under his deep ball, causing it to wobble and lose velocity.
- Has functional mobility, but is not an impressive athlete.
- Has a hitch in his wind-up. Throwing mechanics are otherwise clean.
- Has grown accustomed to having great protection, supplied by an All-American offensive line. Has always had the threat of a dominant running attack, allowing him to play to his strengths. Hasn’t been placed in an offense where athletic superiority wasn’t surrounding him.
- Hasn’t been expected to be the catalyst of his offense, a la Teddy Bridgewater; Johnny Manziel; Derek Carr, etc. Wears the steady “game-manager” label comfortably well — in fact, he thrives in that role.
- Hasn’t fit many balls into tight windows; prefers not to challenge tight coverage, which worked for him in college but will certainly hurt him in the pros; his choices will be narrowed to either taking a sack, or getting rid of the ball.
- Has never been the quarterback who has had to play with less. Alabama was always the favorite to win on Saturday’s.
AJ McCarron has a lot of good things going for him in life. He’s tall, he’s dark, he’s handsome. He has the hot, model girlfriend. He’s played and won on the biggest stage for the best team in the best conference in college football … twice. Now, those glory days are over — and the one thing that he wants the most, he can’t seem to have.
The perception on AJ is that he’s a good, but nothing special type of quarterback prospect. He’s been tagged with the dreaded “game-manager” label by the experts. Normally, I’d fight for a guy in this situation, but this time I think that they got it right. I like what AJ has on film, I do — as evidenced in the positive chart. I see a lot of Andy Dalton in him, which isn’t meant to be insulting, by any means. But it’s the truth.
Unfortunately, I also see some similarities between AJ and Matt Leinart. Matt was a good-but-nothing-great prospect that played on a roster littered with future NFL players. The perception on Matt was that he made good, accurate throws, but never-the-less, easy throws. He was rarely asked to fit the ball into tight windows at the collegiate level, and really struggled to do so in the pros. Much of the same is true for AJ, and unfortunately for him, perception is his reality until he proves otherwise.
A good, solid pro career lies ahead of AJ, if … IF he puts in the work and keeps football first in his life.
10. Tajh Boyd | Clemson
Height: 6′ 1″ | Weight: 222 lbs.
NFL Comparison: Tarvaris Jackson
- Live arm. Throws a tight spiral, ball flies off of his hand with great velocity, great RPMs. Throws from different angles and slots accordingly.
- When feet are set and protection holds, he can pick a part a defense with accuracy on all levels.
- Leads receivers well on go routes, allows them to catch up, good ball placement, allows receiver to make a play on the ball most times.
- Accomplished collegiate career, setting many ACC passing records.
- Good athlete, agile, quick feet in open field. Shows patience and vision as a runner. Downhill mentality, will lower his shoulder when necessary. Aggressive mentality as a runner. Strong base, tough to bring down.
- Great character, demeanor, and toughness. A leader by example. A hard worker, shows the determination and desire to improve. Handles criticism well. Coachable kid, wants to learn.
- Took most of his snaps from the Gun in the Pistol offense.
- Poor blitz recognition at the line of scrimmage, seems ill-prepared on how to adjust pre snap.
- Mechanics and footwork suffer greatly when forced off of spot.
- Erratic accuracy when on the move.
- Not innately cerebral as a Qb. Play-calling allowed simple reads, giving him half-field, two read options mostly. Offense called for easy, cheap completions (hitches and crossing routes) for portions of games.
- Looks very uncomfortable rolling to his left away from pressure, doesn’t reset his feet, accuracy dives.
- Surrounded by current and future NFL talent on offense for much of his career, which padded his stats with lots of YAC. Offense almost always had the advantage, especially Tajh as a passer in a weak conference (minus FSU).
Unfortunately for Tajh, NFL teams are heavily scrutinizing his film due to the number of current and future pro players that surrounded him during his stay at Clemson: DeAndre Hopkins, Andre Ellington, Dwayne Allen, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant, etc.
Every Qb prospect would face greater scrutiny if he was surrounded by superior talent while performing in an inferior conference. I’m not knocking Tajh any more than I am knocking AJ McCarron for similar circumstances. Tajh’s stats were padded because of his playmakers on offense and the mismatches they created; the YAC went to Tajh’s stat line as well.
Tajh is a talented Qb prospect, but he simply just hasn’t shown enough pro ability. He suffered greatly vs tougher competition: Georgia; South Carolina, 2x’s; FSU. Tajh has displayed elementary instincts — from a quarterbacking perspective — showing an average feel for the position. He has exposed himself to poor mechanics, poor footwork, and inconsistent accuracy and decision making when faced with pressure at the line of scrimmage.
Not all is bad — but the bad is really bad.
What’s more is, the good wasn’t really all that good, despite the Star Wars numbers. I’m just being honest here.
Tajh has a big arm. He throws a pretty deep ball; he hits his target in stride on go routes as good as anyone in this class. He has the character and temperament that makes people want to be around him. He is a very good athlete and has to be game-planned and prepared for when he turns into a runner, as he is dangerous when he tucks the ball.
But the facts are the facts: Tajh isn’t the prospect that his stat line would indicate. He is a perfect mid-to-late round project that must take to a “student with a clipboard” role to begin his career. If he puts in the time and stays patient, with proper coaching and hard work, he will eventually get his chance to show that he can play at the next level.
Overall grade of the 2014 class: A
Although there isn’t a sure-fire prospect cut from the Andrew Luck cloth, this 2014 class is still very good. Andrew Luck is a once in a lifetime prospect — we’re all well aware of that. The rest of the 2012 Qb class was really special, from my point of view, and this 2014 class is on par with them.
The class of 2014 is headlined by an athletic gunslinger with advanced accuracy, a very live arm, and good athletic bloodlines in Derek Carr. Derek has an advantage over everyone is this class, in my opinion, and not just because of his physical attributes. Having the elder brother David’s NFL experience to lean on will be greatly beneficial for young Derek when he enters the league. That type of knowledge is powerful.
This 2014 class has Franchise Qb depth beyond Derek Carr. They also have a once in a lifetime persona in Johnny Manziel — who happens to be one of the most compelling, most captivating Qb prospects that I have ever graded.
This is a very intriguing talent-grouping of young signal callers with a perfect mix of potential Aaron Rodgers types, to classic, big arm pocket types, to steady-eddy decision makers with accuracy and athleticism to boot. I can’t wait to see where these guys call home in May.
Overall, I believe that this group can be special, but they all really need some time to develop — so a sit-and-groom approach would be the desired route for many of these young men.
There are several of young and talented teams that have been in the quarterback market for awhile now, and in 2014, they may finally land the “Franchise Qb” that they have long been waiting for.
I even like the depth beyond what I graded — guys like:
- Brett Smith, Wyoming (Combine snub, 4.51_40 at pro day, good skill set)
- Connor Shaw, South Carolina (tough, smart, accurate, athletic and determined)
- David Fales, San Jose St (advanced accuracy and anticipation)
- Keith Wenning, Ball St (good arm talent, good skill set)
I sure hope that you all enjoyed reading this piece as much as I enjoyed working on it. Every year, I put in sleepless night after sleepless night watching game film cut-ups while making notes, preparing for my Qb evaluations. This year just happens to be the first time that I have shared my evaluations online.
As always, I encourage any and all feedback, no matter how praise-worthy or damning your comments may be. Thank you!