Now that the biggest decisions by underclassmen have been made to declare for the 2014 NFL draft, it is time for an updated breakdown and analysis of the top quarterbacks in this year's class.
The top three signal-callers are unique in that each has taken his respective program to unprecedented heights. Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater have led UCF and Louisville to BCS bowl wins within the past two years, while Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman and carried Texas A&M's poor defense to a respectable 2013 campaign.
As the unquestioned faces of their respective teams, this trio has faced pressure and scrutiny in the spotlight and thrived in the midst of it. That suggests all are ready to handle all that comes with being an NFL franchise QB.
Below is a closer look at what these young men all bring to the table on the gridiron, as well as a ranking of how they stack up with each other.
3. Blake Bortles, UCF
He is no doubt bound to be on the end of many bad "knight in shining armor" puns when teams consider selecting Bortles at the top of the draft. Jokes aside, there is plenty to like about Bortles' game.
In the Fiesta Bowl victory over Baylor, the junior showed off his ability to run, carrying the ball eight times for 92 yards and a touchdown in addition to throwing for 301 yards and three scores on only 31 attempts.
CBSSports.com expert Dane Bugler believes that Bortles could even go No. 1 overall to the Houston Texans.
New head coach Bill O'Brien, a known QB guru, witnessed firsthand what Bortles could do when his former Penn State team lost to the Knights, and Bortles threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns, per Bugler:
Anytime you have a quarterback like [Blake Bortles], who is accurate, has a strong arm, is big, and can stand in the pocket and can run, it is a difficult challenge. He played a great game tonight and all the credit to him. I think he is a heck of a player. I didn't get a chance to meet him or say hello to him, but I think he is a heck of a player. He had a great game.
Bortles is 6'4", 230 pounds with obvious mobility, a huge arm and possibly the most upside between himself and the slighter-in-stature Manziel and Bridgewater.
However, there also isn't as much polish to Bortles, and he doesn't give off that X-factor that could change the fortune of an NFL franchise.
Brent Sobleski of USA Today put it well—there is enough in Bortles' arsenal to justify him as a top-flight pick but nothing that should sway teams enough to believe he can be a surefire QB of the future:
There is a lot of Ryan Tannehill in Bortles' game, and NFL.com expert Bucky Brooks doesn't quite see a big star in his detailed evaluation:
I see a good player with a lot of upside, but I don't see a transcendent star that will significantly change the fortunes of a dismal franchise. Now, that doesn't mean he can't be an effective starter for a team, but I believe it will take him some time to develop into a solid player as a pro.
The physical tools are tantalizing, but Bortles feels like more of a mid-to-late first-rounder stuck in a class that is rather thin at the top at the QB position thanks to some underclassmen deciding to return to school.
Bortles needs time to hone his skills, something he may not be afforded if he's counted on to be the instant savior for his pro team.
2. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
The cerebral Bridgewater doesn't really have an NFL-type physique, but he can make up for that with his toughness and intelligence to be an effective pro.
MMQB.com's Greg A. Bedard spoke with Cardinals offensive coordinator Shawn Watson about the job Bridgewater has done over the past two seasons. Watson implies that he hasn't had to do much play-calling at all:
Most of these kids in college, the coordinator calls it from the press box and then there’s a signal system once the defense declares. The quarterback never gets developed, never gets taught. Teddy’s been taught from day one that I want him to be the coordinator at the line of scrimmage because he can be far better than me. And he can put the ball wherever he thinks is right.
It seems Bridgewater has an edge over his peers in terms of football IQ. He does have requisite arm strength but not the type of dynamic arm that Bortles has.
Bridgewater's decision-making allowed him to toss 31 touchdowns to only four interceptions in 2013, and he closed out his career in style by throwing for 447 yards and three TDs in a Russell Athletic Bowl triumph over Miami (FL).
Among the top-flight prospects, there is little question that Bridgewater has the most solid fundamentals and is the most consistent and steady player in the bunch. Another positive is that Bridgewater is mobile enough to throw on the run both ways and even move the chains with his feet.
The question is whether or not he is a difference-maker and a definitive elite quarterback standing at 6'3" and 205 pounds, per his Louisville profile.
If Bridgewater packs on more weight, it would be easier to sign off on him as a top overall QB. Otherwise, he does have the football savvy, production and intangibles to suggest he can be the proverbial man.
1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
The majority of evaluators have Bridgewater ranked ahead of Manziel, which makes sense in some regard but deserves at least some pause for consideration.
For starters, Manziel posted a better adjusted total QBR than Bridgewater did this season:
Although that statistic does encompass Manziel's penchant to run the football—something he does far more than Bridgewater—it is also worth highlighting just how much Bridgewater benefited from a strong defense backing him up.
The Cardinals were No. 1 in the country in total defense, while the Aggies were 109th. Factor in that Manziel was also playing superior competition, and it's all the more impressive.
Manziel oozes the swagger, leadership and understanding of how to handle everything that comes with playing the most important and pressure-packed position in sports.
In what was Manziel's last game in college, everything was on display when he completed 30 of 38 passes for 382 yards and four touchdowns in a rousing comeback victory in the Chick-fil-A Bowl over Duke. He also ran for 73 yards and another score.
Some may be concerned that his insistence on running and undersized 6'1", 210-pound frame will get him squashed at the professional level, but he has more Russell Wilson than Robert Griffin III in his game.
That means he's smarter with the football, goes through more progressions and will do a better job of avoiding big hits at the next level.
Manziel has a sixth sense that almost can't be accounted for, something ESPN's Trent Dilfer raved about:
Bear in mind, though, that Manziel outweighs Bridgewater even though he's listed as two inches shorter. There's nothing to suggest Bridgewater is a far-and-away more accurate passer or has more arm talent than Manziel, which begs the question: Why do evaluators prefer the man from Louisville?
It's difficult to get a universal answer for that one, but Manziel is the top quarterback in this class and will prove to be the franchise-changing force a fortunate team choosing in the top five desperately needs.
4. Derek Carr, Fresno State: The Bulldogs' spread system led to Carr throwing a ton of short passes, and he relied very heavily on No. 1 receiver Davante Adams, who had a whopping 131 receptions and 24 touchdowns.
Carr is still an intriguing prospect because of his underrated mobility and he has probably the most arm talent in the draft. The question is whether or not he can hold up to pressure and process complex defenses well enough at the next level to be a franchise-caliber QB.
It helps that Carr played through his senior season and has a bit more life experience than the three previous quarterbacks, and his numbers (5,082 yards, 50 TDs passing and eight interceptions) should still see him become a first-round pick.
5. David Fales, San Jose State: It's easy to overlook Fales because of the rather low profile of the program he hails from, but he has all the makings of being a second-round choice for those fearing a gamble on a QB too early.
NFL.com's Charles Davis provided his input and what he's heard on Fales on Dec. 4:
...Evaluators I hear from are very high on him. They keep saying, "I've got to see more of him." When league evaluators do their due diligence on Fales, I think they will be coming back saying, "You know what, I'm not sure he should be ranked behind some of those big-name guys."
I've talked to people that played against him and they all say he's legit. You could take him and put him at many big schools and they would be very happy to have his services
The last game of Fales' college career saw him out-duel Carr in throwing for 547 yards and six touchdowns in a 62-52 victory. Fales also ran for 33 yards and another score on six carries, and in nine of his last 10 starts, he threw for over 300 yards.
6. Tajh Boyd, Clemson: Having a receiving duo such as Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant at his disposal certainly helped Boyd, but what he's done in his consistent career shouldn't go unnoticed.
Boyd is a bit shorter than ideal at 6'1" but threw for at least 33 touchdowns in each of his last three seasons for the Tigers and scored 10 touchdowns on the ground in both of his final two years.
With his arm talent, athleticism and raw tools, it's hard to see Boyd falling past the second day of the draft.