2014 NFL Draft: Surveying This Year's Top Quarterback Prospects

Ryan Riddle@@Ryan_RiddleCorrespondent IDecember 11, 2013

2014 NFL Draft: Surveying This Year's Top Quarterback Prospects

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    Is Johnny football the best quarterback of the 2014 draft class?
    Is Johnny football the best quarterback of the 2014 draft class?Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

    As the NFL season begins to wind down and head into postseason action, some teams are already looking ahead for the next great franchise quarterback. 

    The 2014 NFL draft will be upon us before we know it, and this year's crop of signal-callers is supposed to be a deep and talented bunch. This is sure to come as wonderful news for those 13 or so NFL teams in need of a change at the position. 

    Last year, only one quarterback (EJ Manuel) was drafted in the first round. This year, B/R's NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller's latest mock draft has four quarterbacks being selected. 

    So lets take a look at some of the top quarterback prospects for 2014. 

Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    One of the first things that stands out regarding Teddy Bridgewater is his crisp, clean and decisive footwork. This is where it all starts for his accuracy and impressive velocity on the ball. 

    When I asked renowned draft analyst Darren Page, he had this to say about Bridgewater:

    Teddy Bridgewater's success in the middle of the field is evidence of his ability to read coverages and deliver over the middle with anticipation. Where most quarterbacks play in systems that focus on hi-lo reads on the boundaries, Bridgewater thrives between the hashes. He has an adjusted completion percentage of 78 percent between the hashes. The middle of the field is where he does his best work, and it's not that close.

    I also reached out to Bleacher Report's NFL draft ninja, Matt Miller, to hear whether or not he had any concerns about Bridgewater's lower-level competition. Here's what he said:

    I'm not too worried by the level of competition. Rutgers always puts defensive backs into the NFL, and really, at the FBS level, I'm looking at ball placement and decision-making most. He excels with both.

    Some have compared this talented quarterback to a taller version of Russell Wilson; I personally see him falling somewhere between Wilson and Geno Smith. 

    He should be able to play in most systems, although his thin frame would not be an ideal fit for a read-option scheme.

    This kid can have enormous success from the pocket, but expect a considerable adjustment period to the NFL game. Much of his success at Louisville came with giant passing windows and talented weapons. 

Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

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    Despite the fact that Johnny Manziel is considerably undersized for the NFL, he still measures out as one of the most talented quarterbacks in the 2014 draft class. Manziel’s moxie, competitive spirit and ability to have fun on the field are reminiscent of Brett Favre.

    Johnny Football is an underrated athlete, equipped with the foot speed to evade would-be tacklers all day long.

    His decision-making, immaturity and smallish frame should set him back in terms of his draft status, but he does seem to have certain intangibles that you look for when seeking out your franchise quarterback.

    Manziel's evaluations within the draftnik community have been all over the spectrum.

    Josh Liskiewitz of GM Jr Scouting has leaned on the side of skepticism when it comes Johnny Football. He charted three of his games and was left unimpressed. He pointed out that in his sampling of games, Manziel was only 12-of-30 with two touchdowns and three interceptions on throws of 15 yards or more. 

    Yet on the other side of the coin, I spoke to Brendan Leister, the editor at DraftBrowns.com, and he sees a much more promising prospect than what Josh saw.

    "Thus far, charting Manziel has confirmed my initial view that his ball placement is very strong to all levels of the field," Leister said. He went on to say that he believed Manziel was emerging as his top quarterback prospect in this upcoming draft. 

    Manziel is clearly not for everyone. Some GMs will openly embrace a character like his, while others will keep him as far away from their franchise as possible.

    We still are not sure whether Manziel will return for another season at Texas A&M, but all signs seem to point toward him declaring early for the NFL draft. 

Derek Carr, Fresno State

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    Derek Carr is the younger brother of former first-round quarterback David Carr.

    Carr shows off an impressive arm that can certainly put NFL secondaries in a tough position. 

    According to draft analyst Darren Page, who charted several of Carr's games this year:

    For an offense that likes to hit underneath so often and then manufacture deep balls, Carr should be completing passes at a higher rate down the field. His accuracy is affected by poor footwork and falling off on these throws. Carr has a 57 percent adjusted completion rate of throws at least 10 yards or more and 35 percent on passes 20 yards or more. 

    Carr certainly has the arm strength to play in the NFLmuch like his brother before himbut he will need to improve upon other areas of his game if he is to have success at the next level. 

    Brendan Leister points out that "Carr's ball placement was pretty inconsistent overall." When he compared it Manziel's, he found that "Manziel's ball placement on throws six yards or more was 65 percent, compared to Carr's, who was only 54 percent."

    This is not to mention that Carr seemed to have much wider passing windows than Manziel had against SEC defenses. 

    The big concern about Carr is that he could be just another strong-armed prospect who has benefited from a system that throws a lot of short passes and screens. 

    Carr's college tape does seem to be absent of any read progressions, while his stats benefited from a system built on short passes to supplement a marginalized running game. 

Tajh Boyd, Clemson

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    Senior quarterback Tajh Boyd has had quite the illustrious career during his time at Clemson.

    According to Charlie Campbell of WalterFootball.com:

    Clemson has Boyd listed at 6-foot-1, but sources say that is very generous. They say they believe that he will measure in the 5-foot-11 to 6-foot range at the Senior Bowl or Combine. Sources believe that some teams will ding him for the lack of height. Helping Boyd's argument against that perceived negative is the success of shorter quarterbacks like New Orleans' Drew Brees and the Seahawks' Russell Wilson.

    Though undersized, Boyd is a talented runner and shows impressive poise when standing firm in the pocket.

    He has toughness and has been known to be a solid leader during his time in Clemson. Those qualities should play out well throughout the draft process and beyond.

    One other concern, aside from his short build, is his slightly elongated release. When you watch tape, you can see that Boyd does have a lengthy windup that may need some tweaking. But few quarterbacks have been able to alter something they’ve done a specific way for years. Throwing motions are a tricky thing to mess with. Most often a player just resorts back to old habits during crunch time anyway.

AJ McCarron, Alabama

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    Listed at 6’4” and weighing around 220 pounds, AJ McCarron possesses the ideal frame for an NFL quarterback and seems to have the demeanor of a guy who can have success at the next level. Personally, he reminds me a lot of Brad Johnson, who played for the Vikings and won a Super Bowl for the Buccaneers.

    This kid is not overly athletic and does not have the rocket arm that usually lands a prospect in the early part of the first round. But he is, in fact, a proven winner and smart decision-maker. He has great leadership skills and a high football I.Q.

    NFL teams looking to add depth, or potentially even a starting quarterback, should take interest in McCarron. His ceiling may not be the highest among the 2014 quarterback prospects, but his floor just might be.

    This is a guy who will need a strong supporting cast around him and will not hold up under a collapsing pocket. If you try throwing McCarron into a bad situationmuch like what Andrew Luck has been faced with the last two yearsyou will never have success with him under center. A pretty high-functioning system will already need to be in place if you want this guy to yield positive results.

Zach Mettenberger, LSU

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    Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

    Zach Mettenberger certainly possesses the physical skills to have a highly successful NFL career. He has a big-time arm and great pocket presence to go along with his strong frame and build, reminiscent of Ben Roethlisberger.

    Mettenberger does need to improve his footwork, which should tighten up his throws and help with overall accuracy.

    One of the biggest areas of improvement from his junior to his senior year has been his decision-making.

    Before tearing his ACL during his senior season, Mettenberger was a prospect who was climbing the ranks. His stock and draft value were certainly trending upward. 

    Slow feet and a history of injuries could cause him to drop into the middle rounds, where some team just might end up with one of the top steals of the draft. His upside is attractive, and it is certainly worthy of a close look for any team looking for an upgrade at the position. 

    His best-case scenario might just be to develop as a backup quarterback for two years or so in a stable organization known for its coaching. 

David Fales, San Jose State

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    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    David Fales looks like he has a decent arm and some accuracy. His completion percentage is deceiving, and that is due to a system dependent on a quick passing offense and shallow routes.

    While Fales will never be a deadly threat as a running quarterback, he does have some mobility to buy time in the pocket. 

    Footwork and vision are two major areas of concern for Fales, but those seem like correctable flaws for the most part. 

    It's hard to say how quickly this  kid can find success among NFL-caliber talent, considering he seemed to struggle when facing top-level competition in college. He looked very mortal against Stanford and could have limited upside due to mediocre physical tools.

    Fales' ideal situation could be in a system like that of Andy Reid's in Kansas City. In time, this quarterback could be an improved version of Alex Smith, as he has a similar set of skills.  

Brett Hundley, UCLA

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    There has been a lot of chatter going around that Brett Hundley is destined to be another Jason Campbell in the NFL.

    Though there is some fairness to the comparison, Hundley is a far better athlete than Campbell was. He has also already developed his skills from the pocket much more than Campbell during the same phase in their maturation process.

    We must remember that Brett Hundley is merely a redshirt sophomore who is just finishing up his second year as a starting quarterback. In that time, he has certainly come a long way.

    Head coach Jim Mora Jr. has sung his praises as a player and leader of this team. He seems to believe that Hundley is the full package at quarterback. Personally, I tend to agree. 

    When trying to assess this kid's potential, you have to see beyond the obvious flaws and rough spots. His raw and natural talent, strong frame, hard-working attitude and competitive spirit certainly make up for some loose ends in his fundamentals. 

    There is no definitive word yet on whether this talented quarterback will return for another year of college football or declare early for the draft. If he declares, though, he should be drafted within the first three rounds, despite concerns about his accuracy and overall consistency. 

    According to Andy Fenelon of NFL.com, Hundley has sought out feedback from the NFL regarding his prospects for the draft. 

    Hundley is a true dual-threat quarterback and would fit perfectly in an offense which caters to his unique athletic ability. He also has the size and strength to withstand the punishment of the NFL. 

Aaron Murray, Georgia

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    The big knock on Murray is his height. That causes some to wonder if his success will translate to the NFL. At the same time, Murray has a quality arm and flashes the ability to be a good game-manager. 

    Whatever the future holds for Murray in the NFL, he must first face the arduous process of rehabbing a torn ACL in his knee. This injury should keep him out of most of the pre-draft testing, which may cause him to fall even further in the draft than he already would have for being an undersized prospect. 

    I thought Gil Brandt of NFL.com had the most interesting take on Murray's NFL prospects:

    On an uneven scale from three (average) to nine (the top), I don't have a grade lower than seven on any characteristic for Murray. I gave him nines for intelligence, dedication and competitiveness, an eight for accuracy, and sevens for arm strength and mobility.

    Because he graded out so highly on dedication and competitiveness, and because of recent surgical advances made with knee injuries, there's no doubt in my mind Murray will come out of this stronger than he was.

    I understand I'm a lot higher on him than most, but the reality is most teams are all over the board in their opinions of him. Some see him as a starter, some as a backup.

    At just over 6'0", Murray will not have an easy time fighting for his opportunity in the NFL. 

Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois

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    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

    This kid may be from a small school, but his talent is beginning to grab the attention of NFL scouts from around the country. 

    Jimmy Garoppolo has thrown for 4,012 yards with 42 touchdowns and eight interceptions while completing 66 percent of his passes.

    According to WalterFootball.com, all 32 NFL teams have scouted this small-school phenom, with two general managers having visited campus. Scouts are said to like Garoppolo's quick release but have concerns about his hand size and level of competition.

    According to Dane Brugler of CBS Sports:

    Garappolo is a good-sized, rhythm quarterback with excellent accuracy, timing and a quick release that really helps him be efficient from the pocket. Sets up quickly and shows good lower body movement skills to evade pressure and deliver from different platforms.

    Garoppolo has been a four-year starter for Eastern Illinois and recently became the school's career leader in completions. 

    If he works out well during the pre-draft festivities, he could become the first FCS quarterback since Joe Flacco to be drafted in the first round. 

    Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and current writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained first-hand, unless otherwise noted.

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