Back in the fall, when football season was just getting started, I predicted that this year’s quarterback draft class would be as good or better than the impressive 2012 class.
First things first: Let’s go back and look at the successes from that 2012 group, widely considered the best quarterback draft class since that of John Elway, Dan Marino, and class of 1983. The first round carried the load with stars Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III going with the first two picks, to the Indianapolis Colts and the Washington Redskins respectively. Current Miami Dolphins starter Ryan Tannehill was taken with the eighth pick. The notable quarterbacks taken outside the first round were Russell Wilson, who won the Super Bowl in only his second season, and Nick Foles of the Philadelphia Eagles, who led Philly to the playoffs.
Through their first two seasons in the NFL, the 2012 crop of quarterbacks has been very impressive. But I hold strong that this year’s group is going to impress as well.
1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Manziel is a flat-out stud. Since bursting onto the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2012, a season in which he became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, Johnny Football has evolved into one of the biggest celebrities college football has ever seen. That offseason, Manziel’s every move was monitored and scrutinized by sports media everywhere. He didn’t miss a beat, his numbers improving as he matured as a passer. This season, Manziel’s growth as a player was evident. He spent less time scrambling around and more time in the pocket, and he was better for it. His throwing numbers improved and his rushing was as spectacular as ever. In my opinion, Manziel is the top QB in this draft for the simple reason that he is able to take over the game better than anyone else in the class. With the read-option offense gaining popularity, a team in need of a quarterback would be able to mold an offense around him, and there’s no telling what kind of numbers he could put up.
Projected draft position: Number 1 overall to the Houston Texans
2. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Bridgewater is an interesting player. During the season he was widely considered to be the top quarterback in this draft by a long shot, but his stock has declined from “Number 1 overall pick” to “top 10 pick.” Bridgewater has great accuracy, terrific mobility, and he throws a good ball. His biggest downside is his deep ball arm strength. Honestly though, I love Bridgewater, and he is going to impress a lot of team executives during the interview process because he is a smart guy.
Projected draft position: Number 3 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars
3. Blake Bortles, Central Florida
I’m not sure how to feel about Bortles. He is a physical monster. At 6’4” and 229 pounds, he is the prototype NFL QB, something neither Bridgewater nor Manziel can claim. Coming into the season Bortles was a relative unknown, but after leading his UCF Knights squad to an 11-1 record, an American Athletic Conference championship, and a victory over Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl, he is widely considered one of the top quarterback prospects coming into the draft. Bortles has some obvious flaws. His footwork is a little sloppy, his accuracy needs to be polished a little bit, and he needs to work on throwing a more consistent spiral, but that’s about all that is wrong with his skill set. He has a rocket arm, a quick release, and he is a powerful runner. He could have the most upside of any quarterback in this draft.
Projected Draft Position: Number 4 overall to the Cleveland Browns or Number 7 overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
4. Zach Mettenberger, LSU
Beyond Manziel, Bridgewater, and Bortles is where this class gets interesting. There’s disagreement as to who the next off the board will be, and I think it should be Mettenberger. He is coming off an ACL tear and isn’t in the same tier as the top three, but he definitely has the ability to start in the NFL, even if it isn’t right away. The best fit for Mettenberger, a guy who has all the physical tools but still needs to put it together, is a team like the Saints or the Broncos. They already have established starting quarterbacks, but both of them, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, are finishing up their careers. The opportunity for Mettenberger to sit behind one of the best quarterbacks in the game for a few years before getting the opportunity to start would be invaluable and would make him much better once he gets an opportunity to start.
Projected Draft Position: Number 27 overall to the New Orleans Saints
5. Stephen Morris, Miami and Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
Morris and Thomas are two of the most intriguing prospects in the draft and should be viewed about equally in the eyes of scouts. Physically, they’re probably the two best quarterbacks eligible. First Thomas. He is a monster. He’s tall, he’s fast, he’s strong, and he has a cannon for an arm. The two main flaws with Thomas are that he hasn’t put up great numbers in college and he isn’t very accurate as a passer. The first issue is out of his control at this point, but the second issue can be fixed. He would be smart to not throw at the combine and rather let scouts focus on his physical talents, and then throw at his school’s pro day. This strategy has been successful for similar quarterbacks in the past, and if Thomas executes it, he could wow some scouts and his draft status would skyrocket. With Morris, it’s as simple as this: He needs to improve his accuracy and prove that he can win consistently. He’s the anti AJ McCarron. What McCarron lacks in talent, he makes up for in wins (he’s won two national championships). Morris has all the talent. He has a great arm, he’s fast, and he has good footwork. But during his time at Miami, he’s been nothing better than average. If Morris impresses at the combine and at his pro day, he could end up as a second- or third-round pick, but there will still be questions about his numbers in college.
Projected draft positions: Second to third round
This is a very intriguing class. On top of the QBs I already mentioned, Alabama’s AJ McCarron, Fresno State’s Derek Carr, Georgia’s Aaron Murray, San Jose State’s David Fales, and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd could all be picked early too. Projections can only go so far though, and we’ll just have to wait and watch before we can really compare 2012’s class and this one.