The 2014 NFL Draft is fast-approaching, and after having plenty of time to look at prospects and evaluate their professional future, I’ve put together my initial top 10 lists of positional rankings.
As is typical, I’ll start with the quarterback position.
1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Manziel took the country by storm as a freshman two years ago, winning the Heisman Trophy and setting numerous NCAA and SEC records along the way. This is a guy that a lot of people really dislike, mainly because of the way he has carried himself off the field in the past, especially in the public eye. The 2013 offseason was particularly disastrous for Manziel, drawing bad headline after bad headline, but he seemed to grow up over the course of the season and prove his worth on the field.
Manziel is not immune to bad tape or technique, but my feeling is that he has the most potential of any quarterback in this draft. He has very underrated work habits, his size doesn’t scare me off, and his playmaking/improvisational ability is second to none in this class of players.
If every QB in this draft maxed out their potential, I think Manziel would be the best one, and since he has the highest ceiling, I’m ranking him my top player at the most critical position in this class.
2. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
For most of the season, I was consistently impressed by Teddy Bridgewater but I was never consistently ‘wowed’ by him. This is a top 10 prospect, don’t get me wrong, and I think Bridgewater is going to be a very solid professional.
He needs to add some weight to his frame to take a beating if he has to, especially being that his athletic ability will allow him to scramble off and make plays with his legs. Which, by the way, is a major strength that Bridgewater doesn’t have to often utilize, because he makes smart reads and puts the ball in places where only his receiver can get it. Regardless of competition, the guy went from completing 65 percent of his passes to 69 percent, and 71 percent as a junior, throwing just four interceptions compared to 31 touchdowns.
The only thing for Bridgewater is, he did take more than 20 sacks in each of his three seasons in college, but it’s tough to really nit-pick about that at this point.
As far as rookie QBs go, this may be the most NFL-ready of them all.
3. Blake Bortles, Central Florida
One thing that kept coming up with Bortles when I watched him was CLUTCH. This guy made plays when it counted, and he won games. Especially this past year, Bortles had UCF on fire, even winning a BCS Bowl game (Fiesta) against Baylor.
Bortles can do it all. He has the size NFL teams covet at 6’4″ 230 pounds, he can run when he has to, he has toughness (both mental and physical), and he has the arm to make any NFL throw.
He has drawn some comparisons to a poor man’s Andrew Luck, and I think I kind of like that. I don’t know enough about Bortles to know if he’s as cerebral as Luck, and he’s certainly not on that level as a prospect, but he’s a good one.
When all is said and done, he has a legit shot at being the number one overall pick, but that doesn’t mean I think he’s the best QB in this draft or has the best potential. Still, this is a pretty good class of QBs as far as I’m concerned, and I think Bortles could start in the NFL for a long time.
4. Derek Carr, Fresno State
It’s possible that Carr has the strongest arm in the draft, and is also the top senior quarterback this year. Carr had an insanely productive career, but in his final college game against a solid USC defense, he looked flustered and had arguably his worst game on the biggest stage.
That will certainly raise questions about Carr’s ability to rise to the occasion and play at a high level against top competition, but I still view him as a legit first round pick. As far as size and arm strength, the tools are there but there are some bad habits and tendencies that Carr may need corrected. Like Jay Cutler, another gunslinger, Carr has a tendency to throw off his back foot a lot and rely too much on his arm strength. If he planted his back foot and stepped into more throws, he wouldn’t have nearly as many accuracy issues or make decisions that have coaches whipping their headsets at the ground.
Carr has solid athletic ability and is a fiery competitor, and I think some team in the top 20 will make him their QB of the future.
5. A.J. McCarron, Alabama
Call me crazy, but I really like A.J. McCarron’s potential in the NFL, despite what other Alabama quarterbacks have done, or, not done.
McCarron is a smart QB who is already a professional at taking what defenses give him. He’s going to be given the ‘game manager’ label, but I think that’s a bit unfair. McCarron had a lot more to do with Alabama’s titles than his numbers would lead on, but he’s certainly not without flaw. He’s not a strapping 6’5″ 230 pound traditional QB. At 6’3″ 214 pounds, McCarron could stand to add some bulk as he transitions to the next level.
He doesn’t have a rocket arm by any means, and that can hurt him on his deep ball velocity at times, but rarely does McCarron miss on throws he should routinely make. Rarely does he put his team in bad spots.
For me, the best trait McCarron possesses is his competitive drive. He has a bit of that ‘Crazy Tom Brady’ to him at times, even getting into a fight with his center amidst a blowout in the National Title game two years ago.
McCarron won a lot of games for Alabama, was a Heisman candidate, and proved enough in a run oriented offense for me to warrant a top five grade at his position, even in a pretty deep draft.
6. Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
To think that when this dude is drafted, there will be multiple QBs in the NFL from Eastern Illinois is absolutely bizarre. Actually, Garoppolo compares somewhat favorably to the Eastern Illinois legend before him, Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback Tony Romo.
He doesn’t have a howitzer for an arm, but Garoppolo has intriguing athletic ability and a decent build despite having below-average height at 6’2″. The big knocks against Garoppolo will be his being a ‘system’ quarterback in a college that played against bad competition.
He’s going to take some seasoning, but a patient team will have fun developing this kid and could wind up with a steal a couple of years down the road. He has had a great offseason showing excellent ball placement and stepping up in the spotlight.
7. Zach Mettenberger, LSU
Mettenberger was enjoying the best season of his college career before a knee injury knocked him out and will likely push him way down draft boards because he won’t be able to contribute at least right away as a rookie.
Working in Cam Cameron’s offense, Mettenberger showed excellent strides in his senior season and has ideal size (6’5″ 235) and arm strength for the position.
The only questions I have about Mettenberger are obviously now the ability to stay healthy, and his athletic ability, or lack thereof compared to some of the other QBs in this class.
For a playoff team looking to add a guy to the mix at QB or potentially develop a replacement for the future, this is a guy that makes a lot of sense. He has already gotten acclimated to a pro-style offense and will be able to dive head-first into the playbook as a rookie while rehabbing his injury.
There were some who had Mettenberger pegged as a top 10 pick at one point this season, and compared him to Ravens QB Joe Flacco. Could be one of the best mid-round values in this year’s draft class.
8. Aaron Murray, Georgia
Murray is one of the most productive players in his class who suffered a knee injury as a senior, throwing his draft stock into a black hole even though some had already speculated he might fall to the second or third round. Now, Murray is likely a fourth or fifth round pick with one of the best college resume’s of anyone at any position in the draft.
He’s got good pocket presence and solid athletic ability, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win games. The biggest knock for Murray is size and durability, and if you watch his games at Georgia he did have quite a few passes batted down at the line of scrimmage.
He’s got an uphill battle ahead of him, but don’t count this guy out of starting some games in the NFL.
9. Tajh Boyd, Clemson
I know a lot of people are down on Tajh Boyd right now, but it’s hard to ignore what the guy was able to accomplish in his time at Clemson.
He put up huge numbers, and despite his inconsistencies, I love his ability to make plays and I think he has a solid NFL future ahead of him. In terms of potential, you could rank Boyd much higher than this but he can’t be over-drafted because there is definitely the concern about his erratic accuracy.
Because of his size and athletic ability, some have compared Boyd to Russell Wilson, which is obviously not a bad thing. I think some team will take a chance on him in the middle rounds and he could eventually develop into a starter or at worst a solid backup like a Tarvaris Jackson.
10. David Fales, San Jose State
Fales is a solid, not spectacular all-around QB prospect who is on the cusp of being a top 5 player at his position, but he’s not really elite at any one thing.
He played only two years of FBS football, but he was productive for San Jose State and heading into this season, there were a few people who felt like he could be the best QB in the class as a dark horse.
He’s got a good pocket presence and puts the ball in places that allow his receivers to make plays. Another huge plus for Fales is the fact that he is known for his strong work ethic and coachability, which will be huge at the NFL level.