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    Richner: 2014 Top QBs

    by Matt Richner, NFL Draft Expert
    Last Updated: 9/30/2014 9:40 AM ET
    The 2014 NFL Draft class is one of the deepest (and by a wide margin) at almost every position group over the last 14 years. While there is no sure-fire signal caller in the mold of an Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, this year's class does have a stable full of young thoroughbreds, who given time to develop, learn an offense and surround themselves with decent players, could turn out to be top-tier starters in the NFL. The recent success of Luck, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Joe Flacco suggests that starting a quarterback right away is the new model for developing a young quarterback, a trial by fire method.

    I still believe that a quarterback should sit for at least a short period of time. Every player who goes from college to the NFL says the speed is the biggest difference. Having a period of time to adjust to the rigors of the NFL season, without losing confidence or getting physically beat to a pulp (e.g., David Carr), can have an important impact on a quarterback's progression.

    Below are the rankings of the 2014 NFL Draft class of quarterbacks. This is a class that offers a wide variety of players that can fit into multiple offense systems. There are a few players (e.g., Manziel) who offer the special ability that, in a very specific offense catering to his skill set, could lead to him being a long-term starting quarterback in the NFL.

    1) Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville): A skilled pocket passer, who played in a pro-style offense, Bridgewater possesses exceptional accuracy. Last season he achieved a 71 percent completion rate. With 1,142 career passing attempts, he completed an outstanding 68.4 percent of his attempts for 9,817 passing yards. While he possesses a smaller frame than the stereotypical quarterback, he has the uncanny ability to place the ball in the right spot on almost every throw.

    Bridgewater had command over his entire offense because his coaches at Louisville felt comfortable that he could handle calling his own plays. Coaches would relay a couple of plays and then at the line of scrimmage, it would be up to Bridgewater to select, call out and run whichever play he thought would be best. Very few college quarterbacks can handle this type of responsibility. Showing he can step up in the face of pressure, he completed over 64 percent of passes while under duress last season, the highest mark for any of the quarterbacks in this year's draft class.

    Bridgewater completed 68 percent of his passes on third down, had 14 TDs and only one interception this season on third down. In fact, he had 64 first downs, and if you add in his 14 TDs, he had a 64.5 percent success rate on third downs.

    The one area of concern is Bridgewater's tendency to hold onto the football too long. His average snap-to-pass time in the game was 3.17 seconds; this will need to be shaved down to the 2.3-2.5 second range, which most of the elite signal callers in the NFL operate at.

    Bridgewater had a career total of 446.9 Net Points. Broken down to a per-start level, Bridgewater accounted for 13.2 points per game during his college career. From both a scouting and a statistical model, Bridgewater compares most favorably to Philip Rivers. Both had close to a 3.0 TD/INT ratio, and both are accurate passers with an above 67 percent completion rate.

    Bridgewater is not the athletic quarterback that is the current rage amongst the draft community. He also tends to get nicked up and has missed some time due to injuries. Some scouts believe that he doesn't possess the strong arm needed to make the deep downfield throws. On the other hand, Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell both had that characteristic, while lacking the ability to stand in the pocket, read a defense and make an intelligent throw. Bridgewater has that ability and should develop into a franchise quarterback. Grade: First Round selection

    2) Aaron Murray (Georgia): An experienced quarterback, Murray started 52 career games in the SEC, winning 35 of them. While having a slightly smaller frame, he still stands just over 6'0” tall and weighs more than 207 pounds. Murray originally was a dual-threat quarterback; with time he developed into a more traditional pocket passer. He still retains the athletic ability to escape pressure and pick up key yards with his legs if needed. For his career, he had 16 rushing touchdowns and over 71 rushing first downs.

    While Murray played at one of the nation's top college programs, he was not surrounded by top-tier NFL talent at the offensive skill positions, except for Tavarres King (5th round, Denver), Orson Charles (4th round, Cincinnati) and one season with A.J. Green (1st round, Cincinnati). Though he didn't have the playmakers around him, Murray was still able to produce over 13K passing yards. His 8.91 yards per attempt ranks him third, and his 14.30 yards per completion rank him second amongst all quarterbacks in this year's draft class.

    During his career, Murray threw for 121 touchdowns, with only 41 interceptions, a TD/INT ratio of 2.95. Showing a higher level understanding of his offense than most quarterbacks, Murray had an average snap-to-pass time of 2.56 seconds. Already playing at an NFL caliber, he quickly reads defenses and knows where he wants to go with the football, with little-to-no wasted motion.

    The major issue for Murray is the torn ACL he sustained near the end of the season. He will most likely need some time to rehab before seeing the field. An NFL team would be wise to take Murray, and then shelve him for at least a year to rehab and gain a complete understanding of their offense. A season with no pressure to come in and be the savior will help his development tremendously.
    While some declare Murray lacks the size to be a top-level quarterback, Drew Brees and Russell Wilson have proven that, in the right system, a small-stature quarterback can be successful. From both a scouting and a statistical model, Murray compares favorably to Andy Dalton. Grade: second round selection

    3) AJ McCarron (Alabama): McCarron was the epitome of consistency throughout his 40 career starts, winning 36 of them for Alabama. He won three National Championships and holds the school records for passing yards in a season and career, and passing touchdowns in a career. Ball security and smart decision making are what attracts scouts to McCarron. He won't be careless with the football; for his college career he only had 15 interceptions.

    With 77 career touchdown passes, McCarron's TD/INT ratio was a staggering 5.1. The two other quarterbacks since 2000 with a ratio over 5.0 are Alex Smith and Sam Bradford. He understands his abilities and his limitations. He has tremendous pocket awareness. He can slide and evade pressure while at the same time keeping his eyes downfield looking for an open target.

    At 6'3” and 220 pounds, he has the frame and size to be a pocket passer in the NFL. He can hold up to pressure and has shown the ability to take a hard hit from time to time and get back up with no ill effects. A smart decision-maker who protects the football, McCarron had a 64 percent completion rate for his career on third downs.

    There is some talk amongst the scouts that McCarron doesn't possess the elite arm strength to make every throw in the NFL, especially the deep downfield ones that most scouts are looking for. McCarron might not have as high a ceiling as a Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater, but if anything, he is consistent.

    For his career, McCarron had a total of 436.6 Net Points, an average of 10.9 points per start.

    Both statistically and scouting-wise, McCarron compares favorably to Alex Smith. It took Smith a number of years to get comfortable in the NFL and excel, and McCarron will also need a few seasons to gain a full understanding of his team's offense. At worst, a team drafting McCarron will get a steady backup, and at best, he will be a consistent starting quarterback who is capable of becoming a top end-game manager. Grade: second/third round selection.

    4) Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M): In just two short seasons of playing college football, Manziel went from a redshirt freshman fighting for the starting position to Heisman Trophy winner, slaying the likes of Alabama and most of the SEC on his way to 20 wins in just 26 career starts.

    A dynamic athlete, he has the ability to make a would-be tackler miss, to bounce off one tackle and to pick up key yards with his legs. While I must admit I have not had the opportunity to meet him in person, so I can't speak to his personality, when I watch him in games, he has a never-say-die attitude on each and every play. He won't give up and always looks for the home run versus taking a check down or merely throwing the ball away and living to fight another day.

    In his desire to always hit the home run, Manziel had a 9.06 yards-per-attempt average, which ranks him highest amongst all draft-eligible quarterbacks both this year and last year.

    A proficient passer, Manziel had a career completion rate of 69.0percent, and a TD/INT ratio of 2.86. He completed 67 percent of his third-down pass attempts and threw for 18 touchdowns and 84 first downs, giving him a success rate of 638 percent on third downs.
    A skilled runner, Manziel had 345 rushing attempts for 2,169 career rushing yards, 30 TDs and 111 first downs. He had a success rate of either a first down or a touchdown on 41 percent of his rushing attempts.

    While there is no denying the fact that Manziel is a unique talent, he is not built for every system or offense in the NFL. He will need time and patience to be able to make mistakes and have the opportunity to learn from them.

    In 26 career games, Manziel accounted for 486.0 Net Points, an average of 18.7 points per start. This is the highest points-per-start amongst any of the draft-eligible quarterbacks in this year's draft class.

    Manziel is a completely different player than Joe Montana, but whoever drafts him would be wise to follow the same path that Bill Walsh took after drafting Montana. In 1979, Montana's first year with the 49ers, he appeared in all 16 regular season games, but he only threw 23 passes. Montana didn't become the full-time starter till midway through the 1980 season. The whole time, Walsh worked with Montana on specific plays, gave him experience, built up his confidence and skill set and didn't make him a starter till he was prepared.
    I don't think Manziel is prepared to be a starter on day one. He played behind one of the best offensive lines in college football the last few years, with three current or future first-rounders along the line. Similar to Eli Manning, Manziel excels with taller wideouts, as his passes tend to float and having a bigger target on the outside will give Manziel a larger catch radius.

    In the right offense, with the right personnel around him, Manziel can be an elite quarterback. As I have said, I haven't met him, I don't know what drives the young man to succeed. I merely follow the numbers, and they tell me that Manziel is the classic boom-or-bust type of quarterback. In some ways he compares to Cam Newton in his ability to scramble; in terms of his passing numbers he compares to Ryan Mallett. Grade: second/third round selection.

    5) David Fales (San Jose State): Fales hasn't been on a lot of radars like McCarron and Manziel these past few years, and that is because he bounced around between a couple of JUCO schools and Nevada before finally landing at San Jose State. In just 25 games as a starter, Fales won 17 games, throwing for more than 8,300 yards and 66 touchdowns.

    An accurate passer, with precision accuracy and the ability to drop the ball into severely tight windows, Fales had a completion rate of 68.1 percent. He is not afraid to go down the field with the football and came in second amongst all draft-eligible quarterbacks with an 8.94 yards-per-attempt average.

    For his career, his TD/INT was 3.0, a quality achievement, but he did throw 22 interceptions, an average of almost one per game.. A smart quarterback, he does a good job at reading defenses and understands where he wants to go with the football.
    An older quarterback by some, he showed calmness under duress while in the pocket. While he played in a hybrid spread-pistol offense, he is capable of running a pro-style offense. While he is not the most athletic quarterback, he has the knack for making the right throws and putting his teammates in position to make a play on the ball.

    Though only a two-year starter, Fales had 384.7 Net Points, an average of 15.4 points per start, fourth highest amongst this year's draft class.

    As it stands, he is most likely a developmental-type quarterback, someone to sit, watch and learn for a couple of years. He is suited to play in a West Coast offense, similar to an Alex Smith who has excelled in recent years playing in that offense. Fales could be a real steal to the right team if someone is able to spend the time and effort it takes to groom him. Grade: fifth round selection

    Buyer Beware:

    1) Derek Carr (Fresno State): There is a lot of talk about how Derek Carr has the arm strength to succeed in the NFL, and that he has the ability to make all the deep downfield throws necessary of an NFL-caliber quarterback. There is just one small issue I have with these statements: This past season on pass attempts 20 yards down field or farther, why did Carr only complete 45 percent of his passes?

    How you play on third down and how you play against pressure are two of the major areas that I focus on when watching a player's tape. Carr had a hard time playing against pressure this past year. When pressured in the pocket, Carr had a completion rate of only 49 percent.

    This season on first down, Carr had a completion rate of 73.9 percent, on second down his completion percentage dropped to 67.7 percent and on third down, he took a major hit, dropping to 58.2 percent. For his career, Carr has the lowest third-down completion rate of any of the draft-eligible quarterbacks.

    Carr struggled his first three seasons at quarterback for Fresno State. It wasn't until this year that he and the rest of the offense caught fire and put up some impressive numbers. When facing tougher competition, he and the rest of his team struggled.

    Carr did not play in a pro-style offense; he was merely a game manager while at Fresno State. 35 percent of his passes came on throws behind the line of scrimmage. His inability to work the middle of the field and accurately challenge defenses will hurt him in the NFL. Statistically and scouting-wise, he compares to Mark Sanchez.

    2) Blake Bortles (Central Florida): The scouting report on Bortles make him out to be a Greek god. At 6'5” and 233 pounds he has the frame and build to go along with the athletic ability to be an NFL quarterback. The one major issue I have with him is the only thing he is consistent at is being inconsistent.

    He is a mobile quarterback who can escape pressure with his legs and get outside the pocket. In 194 career rushing attempts he gained 561 yards, an average of 2.9 YPC average, 15 rushing touchdowns, and 64 rushing first downs. He, along with Manziel, had a success rate of either a first down or touchdown on 41 percent of his rushing attempts.

    Bortles has just two years of experience as a starter, playing one season in Conference USA and last season in the America Athletic Conference. He has only played against four ranked opponents these past two seasons. 50 percent of his career interceptions (9) have come in these four games.

    The inconsistency in Bortles' play is evident in his production decline from first and second down to third down, specifically his completion percentage. On first down he completed 70.6 percent of his passes, 75 percent on second down, and 54.3 percent on third down. This reflects a drop of almost 20 percent from second to third down. In fact, most of the elite quarterbacks who have been drafted in the last couple of years, (Luck, RGIII, and Wilson) did not see this significant of a drop in their completion percentage on third down. Russell Wilson, in his lone season at Wisconsin, completed 71.7 percent on first down, 71.8 percent on second down, and 75.3 percent on third down. The great quarterbacks don't have a significant drop in production and none of them were anywhere close to having a 50 percent completion rate on third down.

    Bortles' numbers compare favorably to a couple of other former first round draft picks, Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker. In Gabbert's final season at Missouri he completed 71 percent on first down, 68 percent on second down, and a dismal 44 percent on third down. In Locker's final season at Washington, he completed 55 percent on first down, 62 percent on second down, and 51 percent on third down.

    The inconsistent nature of Bortles' play on third down and his careless decisions against tougher competition would make me worry about drafting him. While he has the frame and stature that most traditionalist are looking for, I believe he lacks the fundamental consistency needed to be a top level quarterback in the NFL. A team would be better off waiting until the last couple of rounds before considering Bortles. He needs several seasons of learning the position, working on his mechanics, and improving his decision making on the field. He is a long term project and someone who will need a lot of work before he is ready to be a franchise quarterback in the NFL.
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