2014 NFL Draft Positional Preview (Quarterbacks)

By Nick Paulenich

Special to Pro Football Guru

Courtesy of NFL draft writer Nick Paulenich, here is the 14th and final installment in our series of positional previews for the 2014 NFL Draft. Nick’s rankings include the Top 5 players at each position. So far, Nick has previewed the top defensive tackles, defensive ends, the inside linebackers and outside linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks available in this year’s upcoming draft. He has also taken a look at the top kicking and punting prospects. On offense, there’s a look at the top centers, guards and tackles, as well as the tight ends, wide receivers and running backs.

Part 14: Quarterbacks

Overview: This year’s quarterback class may come with more questions than answers. There are no sure bet prospects (i.e. an Andrew Luck type). This won’t stop quarterback-starved teams from using high-first round picks on the position. However, the smarter play maybe to draft one in the latter stages of the first round or sometime in the second round.

The top two quarterbacks are Central Florida’s Blake Bortles and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. Bortles has prototypical size and compares to Ben Roethlisberger. However, he is raw and will need to adjust to the sophisticated offenses in the NFL. Manziel is a truly unique talent who is a playmaker. He will need an offense tailored to his skill set and there are the worries about his size and non-football activities.

Fresno State’s Derek Carr has moved up draft boards with a strong postseason as has Pittsburgh’s Tom Savage. Meanwhile, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater stock has tumbled this offseason due concerns about his slight build and a subpar Pro Day. AJ McCarron (Alabama), Zach Mettenberger (LSU), Aaron Murray (Georgia) are three SEC quarterbacks that teams may find good value in.

Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo is a player who should come off the board in the second-round after putting up video game stats in 2013 (5,050 yards and 53 TD passes). The breakdown:

1. Blake Bortles, 6-5, 232 lbs., Central Florida

Bortles grabbed the attention of many after leading Central Florida to an upset win over Baylor in this year’s Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. He picked up the game’s offensive MVP honors by throwing for 301 yards and rushing for 93 and four total touchdowns (one running). Last season, Bortles earned American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year honors. He was also a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien award (given to the nation’s top quarterback). Bortles and Daunte Culpepper are the only players in school history to have two 3,000 yard passing seasons.

Strengths: Equipped with a strong-arm. Looks like the prototypical drop back quarterback. Possesses a high football IQ. Handles pressure in the pocket well. Has the ability to throw on the run when needed.

Weaknesses: Needs to continue to refine mechanics and work on ball placement. Will force ball in traffic. Played in simple offense in college that did not require many progressions.

Projection: Top-ten pick

2. Johnny Manziel, 5-11 3/4, 207 lbs., Texas A&M

Last season, Manziel was a First-team All-SEC selection by throwing for 4,114 yards and 37 touchdowns. In 2012, he became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, Davey O’Brien Award and Manning Award (given to the nation’s top quarterback). Manziel was also a Consensus All-American. Manziel rushed for 1,410 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2012. He is the only player in NCAA history to surpass the 5,000 total yards and 1,000 rushing yards level in a single season (2012). Manziel missed the first half of the first game of 2013 due to what was termed as an “inadvertent violation” stemming from allegations that he accepted money for autographs.

Strengths: Possesses unique improvisational skills and elite athleticism. Can be a major threat as runner. Worked hard on throwing mechanics which showed last season. Shows great instincts, playmaking skills, competitiveness and work ethic.

Weaknesses: Does not have the height of the prototypical quarterback. Has style of play that could lead to injuries. Will need to minimize off-the-field distractions.

Projection: Top-ten pick

3. Teddy Bridgewater, 6-2 1/8, 214 lbs., Louisville

Once considered a possible top-five pick, Bridgewater has slid down many team’s draft boards after poor performances at the Combine and on his Pro Day. His senior year at Louisville, he threw for 3,970 yards and 31 touchdowns while completing 71 percent of his passes. He was a second-team All-American Athletic Conference selection. Bridgewater was the 2012 Big East Offensive Player of the Year. He capped off 2012 by leading the Cardinals to an upset win over the No. 3 Florida Gators in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Strengths: Profiles as a natural pocket passer with good arm strength, accuracy, and touch. Has ability to thrown on run and a quick release. Possesses the intangibles wanted at the position.

Weaknesses: Has a slight stature and small hands. Releases the ball at a low point. Needs to improve build to quell durability questions.

Projection: Late first-round pick

4. Derek Carr, 6-2 3/8, 214 lbs., Fresno State

Carr was an All-American selection and Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year the past two seasons. His 5,082 passing yards and 50 touchdown passes earned him the 2013 Sammy Baugh Award (given to nation’s top passer). Carr was a three-time team captain and started 39 games for the Bulldogs. He also earned Academic All-American honors last season. His brother, David, was the number one overall pick by the Houston Texans in 2002.

Strengths: Looks the part of a classic dropback passer. Has good arm strength, accuracy and touch. Reads coverage well and is a mature leader.

Weaknesses: Can let mechanics breakdown when the pocket is pressured. Throws were mainly horizontal in college, not vertical.

Projection: Late first to early second-round pick

5. Tom Savage, 6-3 7/8, 228 lbs., Pittsburgh

Savage bounced around during his collegiate career. He began at Rutgers, where he was a Freshman All-American. Savage left Rutgers for Arizona before landing at Pittsburgh last season. Savage threw for 2,958 yards and 21 touchdowns (nine interceptions) in 2013. He only threw three interceptions over his last nine games. He tied the ACC record for most touchdown passes in a single-game with six against Duke. Savage was an All-ACC Academic Team selection.

Strengths: Possesses big arm and size needed to be a pocket passer in the NFL. Has experience working under center in pro-style offenses. Can escape pressure when pocket collapses.

Weaknesses: Needs to continue to improve decision-making and improve touch. Struggles making throws on the run.

Projection: High second-round pick

Others to Watch: Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois; AJ McCarron, Alabama; Zach Mettenberger, LSU; Aaron Murray, Georgia; Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech

Small-School Sleeper: Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois

Nick Paulenich is an experienced NFL writer and researcher and the founder of The Sports Savant. You can find Nick on Twitter at @npaulenich.