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    Richner: 2015 Top QBs

    by Matt Richner, NFL Draft Expert
    Last Updated: 3/1/2016 10:32 AM ET
    Not since 2008 was there this much difference in skill and talent between the top two quarterback prospects and the rest of the field. With Marcus Mariota (Oregon) and Jameis Winston (FSU) leading the way this year, they are both leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of their draft class at the quarterback position.

    In 2008, both Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco were the first two quarterbacks selected. Ryan went first overall to the Falcons and Flacco was selected 18th overall by the Ravens. The next quarterback selected was Brian Brohm in the second round, the 56th overall selection to the Green Bay Packers. The rest of the 2008 draft was filled with long term backups and inconsistent starters. Players such as Chad Henne, Dennis Dixon and Matt Flynn all struggled to make it as perennial starters in the NFL.

    A number of quarterback prospects from last year's draft class experienced success and struggles both on and off the field. Both Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr showed flashes of success and each gave their respected fan base something to build upon for the future.

    This year's crop of quarterback prospects has two top tier players who have the physical skill set to be quality NFL starting quarterbacks. After them, there is a dramatic drop off in talent and skill. Below are the rankings of the 2015 NFL Draft class of quarterbacks.

    1) Jameis Winston (Florida State University): Blessed with a wide variety of physical tools, Winston, in his two years as a starter for the Florida State Seminoles, performed at a remarkably high level. For his career, he passed for over 7,900 yards, threw for 65 touchdowns, and had an NFL caliber TD-INT ratio of 2.32. Winston's ability to extend plays, spin out of a would-be tackler's grasp and hit his target down the field reminds some scouts of a young Ben Roethlisberger.

    These past two seasons Winston showed his ability to make quick reads and decisions while delivering the ball with accuracy. His average snap-to-pass time for last season was 2.53 seconds. In comparison, during the 2014-2015 NFL season, Tom Brady had an average snap-to-pass time of 2.27 seconds. Winston shouldn't have much trouble acclimating his throwing mechanics and timing to the speed of the NFL.

    One of the areas where Winston excelled at was his third down efficiency performance. Winston's average completion percentage on first and second down was 67.9 percent. On third down it only dropped to 60 percent. While a drop of only 7.9 percent might not seem significant, Blake Bortles saw his completion percentage drop almost 20 percentage points on his third down completion percentage.

    Winston led all quarterbacks in his ability to throw for a first down on third down amongst this year's draft class. He led all quarterbacks with a 52% conversion rate (achieving a first down) on third down. Even when defenses knew Winston was going to throw the ball, he still was able to display a high success rate. On third and long situations (seven yards or longer) Winston was 57 for 104 and converted 47 of those passes for a first down, a success rate of 43 percent which is highest amongst all the quarterbacks in this draft class.

    The one area of the field where a quarterback must protect the football, deliver it with pinpoint accuracy, and will have the highest level of difficulty is in the red zone. Most NFL coaches will study a quarterback's red zone throws since the windows to throw into are smaller and tighter. You will see a number of quarterbacks who have success in the middle of the field but crumble once they reach the red zone. Winston is not one of these quarterbacks. In fact, he had the highest completion rate in the red zone of any of the quarterbacks in this draft class. He completed 59 percent of his intended passes in the red zone.

    Winston isn't a perfect quarterback and has a few areas where he must show immediate improvement before he can be a successful quarterback. On his interceptions, he held onto the ball for too long. As mentioned earlier, he generally has a quick snap-to-pass time, but on his interceptions, his snap-to-pass time average was over 3.0 seconds.

    While he shows a tremendous ability to extend plays, Winston took a few unnecessary sacks this past season. For his career he had a total of 44 sacks. His negative play rate (sacks + interceptions over pass attempts) was 8.5 percent, well within the acceptable range of NFL caliber prospects which is usually between 7-9 percent.

    Winston's struggles off the field have been well documented and all NFL teams will have done their due diligence in looking into his background and behavior. In terms of his production and efficiency as an NFL draft prospect, Winston should be the first quarterback selected and will most likely be the top overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft. Grade: 1st round selection.

    2) Marcus Mariota (Oregon): Few quarterbacks in today's game of college football have the combination of size, speed, accuracy, and intangibles that are seen in Marcus Mariota. At 6'4” and 222 pounds, he has the uncanny ability to shred defenses, surveying the field and delivering the ball with deadly accuracy. He was the leader of an Oregon offense which had a top five ranked offense every year during his college career.

    The achievements of the reigning Heisman Trophy winner are well known; 10,796 career passing yards, 105 TD, 14 INT, a TD/INT ratio of 7.5, highest of all the quarterback draft prospects. He threw for 471 first downs and displayed the ability to throw the deep ball. He had a total of 110 receptions that resulted in a gain of 25 or more yards.

    What makes Mariota such a dynamic player is his ability to scramble, extend plays with his feet and if necessary, pick up key yards down the field as a ball carrier. He averaged 6.6 yards-per-carry, highest amongst all QB prospects, and had 34 runs of 20-yards or more. He is a weapon every time he touches the ball and defenses will pay dearly if they turn their back on him and give him space to run.

    Unlike a lot of mobile quarterbacks, Mariota does a great job of picking up the necessary yards and either sliding or getting out of bounds. He doesn't take unnecessary hits and rarely puts himself into harm's way when he gets outside the pocket. Similar to a Russell Wilson, Mariota knows his best play is going to be the next one.

    Opponents had a difficult time bringing Mariota down to the ground once they got ahold of him. He only accrued 66 sacks for his career, giving him a negative play rate of just 6.9 percent.

    His level of play was consistent throughout each season and in specific situations by downs. He had a completion percentage average of 67.8 percent on first and second downs and only dipped slightly to 64.3 percent on third down.

    His ability to convert on his third down throws is what elevates Mariota from the other QB prospects. He converted 43 percent of his pass attempts on third down for a first down. One area where he struggled on third down was in third and long situations. While Jameis Winston had a 43 percent conversion rate on his throws, Mariota had a 35 percent conversion rate for his career.

    One area of the field where Mariota showed remarkable improvement from 2013 to 2014 was in the red zone. In 2013 he completed as dismal 46.3 percent of his passes in the red zone. Last season, he raised that rate to 54.1 percent. While he still needs to improve in this area of the field, it is worth pointing out that he only had two INT's on a total of 197 pass attempts in the red zone for his career.

    Mariota has consistently shown the ability to get the ball out at a quick rate; in the Oregon offense it is usually just a one read and throw type of system. Against Michigan State this past season, Mariota showed that he can stand in the pocket while under duress and deliver a quick strike. Against the nation's 8th ranked defense, Mariota had a snap-to-pass time of 2.74 seconds.

    With time and development, Mariota should continue to improve and develop into a more consistent pocket passer. He didn't always trust himself throwing to his left and close to 80 percent of his passes were to the outside of the hash marks for his career. He will need to learn to deliver the ball in the middle of the field and to throw to all areas of the field, not just his strong side.
    His ability to improvise, extend plays and make something out of nothing on almost every play shows why some scouts believe

    Mariota will be one of the first quarterbacks selected in the upcoming NFL Draft. Mariota has the ability to quickly get the ball out of his hands and deliver it with elite accuracy and touch. He still has a few areas for improvement, but his talent and skill level suggest that with time and development, Mariota will be a quality starting quarterback in the NFL. Grade: 1st round selection

    3) Garrett Grayson (Colorado State): A handful of top NFL quarterbacks, including Tom Brady and Russell Wilson, were overlooked for various reasons during the draft process and have gone on to have successful NFL careers. Often times these players are overlooked due to physical limitations (height, weight, speed, etc.) or by some outdated scouting profiles (arm strength, hip rotation, etc.). Colorado State starting quarterback, Garrett Grayson, might not be the top name on the draft boards this April, but I believe he can develop into a quality backup and with the right system possibly into a decent NFL caliber starter.

    At 6'2” and 213 pounds, Grayson checks the boxes that most scouts like to see from a starting quarterback. A precision passer, he has completed 61.8 percent of his passes throughout his career. Showing improved consistency each season as a four-year starter, Grayson has mastered the Rams' offense with excellent field vision and decision making abilities. He understands defenses, is patient in the pocket, goes through his progressions and puts the ball in the exact spot that allows his receivers to pick up critical yards after the catch or to avoid taking a big hit.

    Grayson finished last season 4th in the FBS in passing yards (4,006) and was second behind Oregon's Marcus Mariota in yards per attempt (9.5).

    Grayson has shown areas of success during his time at Colorado State, most specifically in third and long (10+ yards) situations where he converted 24 percent of the time, a higher rate than Marcus Mariota. He was sacked a total of 75 times, giving him a sack rate of 6.7 percent of the time. His negative play rate is at the fringe of an NFL caliber prospect at 9.2 percent.

    There are areas of concern, the first being his third down completion percentage. His average on first and second down for his career is roughly 64.2 percent, on third down he drops to 55.3 percent. His career third down completion percentage is not above the 60 percent line that one would like to see from a top prospect. Grayson did improve each year as a starter and took a significant step in his development this past season.

    He struggled early on in his career on third down. In 2012, he completed 43.2 percent of his passes. In 2013, he completed 53 percent, close to a 10 percent increase. In 2014, he completed 61.4 percent of his passes on third down, an increase of 8.4 percent.

    The numbers might not be impressive, but Grayson's has shown a consistent ability to improve in all areas of his game each and every season as a starter. He can make all the necessary throws in the NFL, has experience calling out his protection and going through his progressions on pass attempts. There has been talk about his slow delivery, but that could be put to rest when teams realize he had a snap-to-pass time average of 2.69 seconds last season.

    While he might take a few years to develop, Grayson has tremendous potential to develop into a valuable commodity for an NFL franchise. With some time, quality coaching and the right system, Grayson could be a hidden gem for one NFL team. Grade: 3rd round selection

    4) Brett Hundley (UCLA): The dropoff between Grayson and Hundley isn't as big as it was between Mariota and Grayson. Hundley has the frame and body most NFL evaluators covet from a quarterback prospect as he stands 6'3” and 226 pounds.
    Scouts love his arm strength and his ability to make almost every throw in your standard NFL playbook. He was asked to shoulder a lot of responsibility the past three years where he started 40 games and won 29 of them.

    His career numbers are very impressive, throwing for 9,966 yards, 75 TD, 25 INT, a TD/INT ratio of 3.0, and completing 67.4 percent of his passes. An elusive runner, Hundley rushed for over 1,700 yards and had 30 rushing touchdowns on his resume.

    At first glance, he looks like a can't-miss prospect who should be considered a first round talent. When looking at his numbers, Hundley had several red flags pop up. He was sacked a total of 124 times, the highest amongst all the draft eligible quarterbacks.

    The next highest was the slow footed Taylor Kelly (ASU) with 98. Hundley had a sack rate of 10 percent and a negative play rate of 12 percent.

    Hundley's completion percentage average for first and second down was roughly 70.2 percent. It dropped to 59.8 percent on third down, a 10.4 point drop. His completion percentage dropped on third down but he did have a higher than expected conversion rate on third down. On third down, he had a 42 percent conversion rate, third highest only behind Winston and Mariota in this year's quarterback draft class.

    Hundley was very efficient in the red zone, his scrambling abilities and uncanny accuracy in this area of the field has him as one of the more intriguing prospects in this year's draft class. He completed 57 percent of his pass attempts in the red zone, second highest only to Winston.

    Hundley will need to learn to take command of the huddle; most of his passes were pre-designed reads with little understanding of protection and defensive scheme. His high sack rate shows that when pressured, he had hard time adjusting, resetting his feet and keeping his eyes downfield. The UCLA offense had a lot of quarterback designed runs, he won't be asked to do that in the NFL.

    In charting his throws this past season, over 50 percent of his pass attempts came with in the first five yards of the line of scrimmage. He wasn't asked to make a lot of intermediate to deep down the field throws that are the bread and butter of so many NFL offenses. Instead, he was responsible for a large quantity of bubble and quick screen throws.

    Athletically speaking, Hundley can compete in the NFL but he is severely lacking in his quarterback development as a passer. A significant amount of time will need to be spent learning and developing these aspects of his game. Statistically, Hundley compares to Tavarias Jackson. Grade: 5th round selection

    5) Bryce Petty (Baylor): After waiting his turn to take over as leader of the Baylor Bears offense, Bryce Petty has made the most of his opportunities. Baylor finished the regular season with the number one ranked offense in the country, averaging 581.5 YPG. Their offense is built around speed and tempo and they ran a total of 1,138 plays this season, with an average of 88 plays per game.

    Petty stands 6'3” and 230 pounds and has the speed to beat defensive ends around the corner on zone read plays. He has missed some time with a back injury earlier this season and a concussion against Texas Tech late in the year.

    While explosive in nature, the Baylor offense is not complex. It relies on short, quick throws that are intended to put the ball into the wide receiver's hands as quickly as possible. With a lot of pre-determined reads, NFL coaches are wondering just what types of decisions Petty makes when the plays break down and he has to improvise. In a number of games this past season, Petty had a snap-to-pass time under two seconds. Against Kansas State, he averaged 1.87 seconds from snap-to-pass.

    For his career, Petty threw for 8,195 yards, 62 TD, 10 INT, a TD/INT ratio of 6.2, and a career completion percentage of 62.7 percent.

    Petty saw a significant drop in his production from first and second down to third down. His first and second down completion percentage was roughly 65.0 percent. It dropped down to 55.9 percent on third down which reflects a drop of 9.1 percentage points.

    On third and long (10+ yards), Petty had the worst conversion rate of all the draft eligible quarterbacks in this year's draft class. He had a 15 percent conversion rate of his third and long attempts.

    In the quick strike offense of Baylor, Petty didn't have to deal with a lot of pressure and a collapsing pocket. He was sacked a total of 42 times, only five percent of his pass attempts. His total negative play rate was an impressive 6.2 percent of his pass attempts.

    Petty has some of the tools NFL teams are looking for, but not everything and there are more questions about his ability to deliver the ball into tight windows and in pressure situations. His long term potential projects him to be a long term backup quarterback. Grade: 6th round selection.

    QB Rankings (Draftable Round)
    1. Jameis Winston (1st)
    2. Marcus Mariota (1st)
    3. Garrett Grayson (3rd)
    4. Brett Hundley (5th)
    5. Bryce Petty (6th)
    6. Sean Mannion (7th)
    7. Shane Carden (7th)
    8. Blake Sims (7th)
    9. Nick Marshall (7-FA)
    10. Grant Hedrick (FA)
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