Nothing has fans, scouts and general managers more excited about the 2014 NFL draft than the quarterback class. With several expected to go in the first round, which prominent teams stand the best chance of taking one?
Some people might use fancy stats and superlatives to give reasons why the Jacksonville Jaguars need a quarterback in the worst way. A better option to use is two simple words: Blaine Gabbert. While no Ryan Leaf, Gabbert could go down as one of the biggest first round busts in draft history. There were questions about him coming out of college and those were more than justified as he’s continuously fallen far below even limited expectations. The Jags are on the fast track to the first overall pick, and it will stun the football world if they don’t take a quarterback.
It’s looking more and more like the defense is a bigger problem than quarterback but that’s just a diversion. Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman have all proven they are not franchise quarterback material. Freeman and Cassel actually showed that with other teams. If the Vikings are ever going to get take advantage of Adrian Peterson they need a legit passer who can take apart defenses for trying to stop the All-Pro running back. Rebuilding the defense is important, but all the best franchises have a quarterback and Minnesota knows they need one.
Matt Schaub has peaked. Though he’s had some great seasons in the past, including two Pro Bowls, the 31-year old is clearly on the decline. The Houston Texans know they are so close to making a title run but like with so many great teams they stand a quarterback away. Case Keenum seems interesting following his surprising day in Kansas City but the optimism should soon wear off. The days of getting by on good-but-not-great are gone. Gary Kubiak has to know his job security isn’t long withstanding if he can’t get his team to the next level. He better recognize where the bread needs buttering.
The loss of Brian Hoyer was really unfortunate because the Cleveland Browns seemed to respond to him. Brandon Weeden is clearly a career backup but nothing more. Jason Campbell should get them a couple more wins but it won change the fact that head coach Rob Chudzinski can’t fully utilize his offensive playbook until he has a quarterback defenses should respect. The Browns have two first round picks going into the 2014 NFL draft. So if any team is gearing for a possible move up the board, and should, it’s them.
Michael Vick has played his last season for the Philadelphia Eagles. Nick Foles often seems like he’s close to a breakthrough but can’t seem to figure out the last pieces of the puzzle. One can understand why team management stated quite honestly that their number one goal is finding a franchise quarterback. Chip Kelly is an offensive coach and every coach like him needs a true signal caller to succeed at the pro level. As creative as his offensive system is, until he finds one he can’t compete with the top teams.
Probably the biggest enigma heading into 2014 is the Chicago Bears. On the one hand they have a 30-year old veteran in Jay Cutler who was playing some of his best football this season. On the other he is a free agent next year and suffered an unfortunate torn groin that painfully reminds the team and fans about his unlucky penchant for getting hurt. Never mind his mind-numbing issues with consistency. There are whispers head coach Marc Trestman wants “his” kind of quarterback, and if Cutler doesn’t finish strong in 2013, the Bears might go out and get it.
St. Louis Rams
The same problem faces the St. Louis Rams. Sam Bradford was beginning to show signs of coming around after a tough start to his career. Then a torn ACL derailed the whole thing. With his salary cap number rising above $17 million next season it’s getting harder and harder for the team to justify waiting on him with second and third-year quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick having their teams on track to Super Bowl runs. Like Cleveland, the Rams have two first round picks. Nobody should be surprised if they use them aggressively.
Bruce Arians is not happy with his offense though he hasn’t mentioned Carson Palmer by name. Still the 34-year old quarterback has looked nothing like a solution for the Arizona Cardinals. He’s an upgrade over what the team had last year, but not the Pro Bowl player he was in Cincinnati. The team needs new direction and more talent out of that position considering the great defenses they have to play in the NFC West. Arians has a long history of success mentoring young quarterbacks. Giving him the chance to pick his own is only logical. Whether the Cardinals do is the big question.
San Diego Chargers
No player has been a more pleasant surprise in 2013 than Philip Rivers. His erratic, inefficient play of years past seems like so long ago. New San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy has him back in his Pro Bowl form and the team still in the hunt for a possible playoff spot. Unless something changes there shouldn’t be any big reasons for the team to eye quarterback in the first round. That is unless they find Rivers turning 32 in December important. If so they might hatch a surprise and go after an eventual successor.
The same goes for the Dallas Cowboys with Tony Romo. Despite ongoing questions about his play in big games, Romo is having one of his best seasons. He’s on pace for over 4,400 yards passing and has 18 touchdowns to just five interceptions. The big sticking point is he turns 34 next April. While not dinosaur age it is certainly advanced for a quarterback. Dallas hasn’t taken a passer in the top rounds for years after the disaster that was Quincy Carter. Could Romo’s closing window push them into action?