There isn’t a more important position in all of sports than the quarterback. They touch the ball every offensive play and you simply cannot win in the NFL without an elite quarterback. Just look at the past 5 Super Bowl quarterbacks both winners and losers: Wilson, Peyton Manning, Flacco, Kaepernick, Eli Manning, Brady, Rodgers, Roethlisberger, Brees and Peyton again. Add in that they are the face of billion dollar franchises and it is understandable why they are the highest paid players in the NFL by far.
No place better illustrates how valuable the quarterback position is than the NFL Draft. Every year — except last year surprisingly — some team reaches for a flawed quarterback prospect hoping they can snag their signal caller of the future.
Luckily for the teams needing quarterbacks there are multiple 1st round talent quarterbacks entering this year’s draft. And it is a diverse group featuring traditional drop back quarterbacks like Blake Bortles and the new era dual threats like Johnny Manziel.
So without further adieu, let’s break down the top five quarterback prospects to identify their strengths and weaknesses.
Blake Bortles: The strapping 6’5 232 pounds Bortles looks like an NFL quarterback. Yet there is more to him than his size, particularly his awareness, decision making and willingness to hang in the pocket.
But Bortles is still relatively raw and teams would have preferred that he stayed at UCF for his senior year to answer some questions surrounding his game. Mainly whether he can take the next step and convert his potential into results.
Wisely he left school with a sky high ceiling and forced NFL teams to predict whether he can continue developing the skills to maximize his immense physical talents. Some team will certainly think he is ready. He is the current front runner for being selected with the 1st overall pick.
Strengths: Prototypical body at 6’5 and 230 pounds, NFL arm strength, great pocket awareness/footwork, climbs the pocket well, always keep his eyes downfield, able to operate under pressure, good athlete that can hurt defenses with his legs and ran some zone read at UCF.
Weaknesses: Raw in every sense, needs to refine his footwork/technique, doesn’t read defenses well, lack of eye discipline, turned the ball over a good amount at UCF and could have used another year in college.
Overall: NFL teams see Bortles as a big hunk of malleable clay. He has all the raw tools to become an elite quarterback but needs to be refined into a final product. And guess what, the control freaks that make up 99.9% of NFL coaches love that.
Because of Bortles’ connection to the new Texans head coach Bill O’Brien – O’Brien was the OC for Bortles college coach George O’Leary at Georgia Tech– I expect him to be selected first overall. If he isn’t and the Texans go a different direction Bortles won’t last long with all of the quarterback needy teams in the top 8 picks.
Johnny Manziel: All right it is time to breakdown the most polarizing prospect in recent memory. Who knew Johnny Football could be so controversial?
The two schools of thought surrounding Manziel are like oil and water. Some think he will become a once in a generation player with his amazing play making skills and anyone that passes on him will sorely regret it down the road.
Others think the college hotshot is in for a rude awakening in the NFL where defenders will take advantage of his high risk/reward style and physically punish him when he leaves the pocket.
Like most things in life, Manziel will probably end up somewhere in between. Whether he succeeds will likely depend on his ability to develop into a proficient pocket passer, something he didn’t have do in college. If he can learn how to sit back and dissect a defense with his eyes and arm he will be a true dual threat. But if he can’t he will be extremely limited and struggle to repeat his success at Texas A&M.
Strengths: Dynamic athlete in every sense, capable of beating defenses with his arm and legs, incredible improvisor, elusive and slippery in the pocket, dangerous as a runner in space, good arm strength that could be excellent if he corrects his footwork, extremely productive at Texas A&M, has the moxie one wants in a quarterback, good leader and was the most exciting player in football.
Weaknesses: Under 6 foot and slender, reckless, gun slinger that is willing to throw the ball into coverage/across the middle late, bad footwork, tends to fall backwards as he throws robbing him of power and accuracy, better outside the pocket than in it, worry that he won’t be able to take 16 games of NFL punishment, rock star that was bigger than the team at A&M and has a style of play that doesn’t translate well to the NFL.
Overall: Manziel was the most electric player in all of sports over the past 2 years. Because of that he has produced some truly amazing highlights and Youtube videos that have led some to think he is the second coming of Brett Farve with Barry Sanders’ legs.
But when you watch his tape it becomes evident that Manziel has some serious flaws that will need to be corrected for him to succeed in the NFL. In college they weren’t noticeable — outside of the two LSU games where he looked awful — because he was a superior athlete capable of overcoming his technical flaws with pure athleticism.
That will not be the case in the NFL. The likes of J.J Watt, Richard Sherman and NaVorro Bowman will be more than willing to give Manziel a lessonabout the differences between SEC and NFL defenses.
In that way Manziel is similar to every other quarterback that enters the NFL, he will have to adapt his game to the NFL. He is different than most though because if he can adapt he has the potential to be a truly special talent. Therefore expect Manziel to hear his name called early despite his flaws.
Teddy Bridgewater: It’s been a tough few months for Teddy Bridgewater. After entering the 2013 season as the front runner for top quarterback and #1 pick, Bridgewater’s stock has gone off the cliff.
It started with his terrible pro day and has apparently continued with sub par private workouts. While his inaccuracy and hesitance during the pre-draft process have been surprising, the fact that his draft stock has taken a hit isn’t.
As a slender 6’2 quarterback with an average arm, Bridgewater was always going to look relatively average compared to a 6’5 Bortles or high flying Manziel throwing the ball in a tee shirt and shorts.
Bridgewater’s game isn’t built around physical superiority, it’s built upon preparation, timing and accuracy. When you watch his tape these attributes jump off the screen as he seamlessly progresses through multiple reads to find an open receiver, or things that win football games.
Strengths: Extremely accurate on short to intermediate throws from the pocket or on the move, great vision capable of progressing through multiple reads, played in a pro style offense, great pocket awareness and mobility, good athlete that can extend plays, capable runner but always looking downfield, great work ethic, his film study shows up on the field, came up big in big moments for Louisville and coachable.
Weaknesses: Slender build and only 6’2, struggled mightily at his pro day and private workouts, adequate but not elite arm strengths, lacks accuracy on his deep passes, quite demeanor and questions about his ability to lead an NFL team.
Overall: More worrying than the sub par workouts/pro day has been Bridgewater’s response. Watching his pro day he seemed to shy away from tough questions instead of attacking them and his quiet nature is a legitimate concern.
We know he is an accurate, efficient quarterback that seems to have a desire to win but can he convince others of that. And I am not talking about you or me, I am talking about the other 10 guys in the huddle.
These questions about Bridgewater’s leadership abilities have exacerbated his poor pre-draft performance’s to send his draft stock plummeting. Some experts now have him being selected at the end of the 1st round, a shocking development for a player slated to go first overall for the majority of last year.
At that point he will be a complete steal as Bridgewater has the tape to prove he is a very good quarterback with key skills — intelligence and preparation — that translate very well in the NFL. But he will need to prove he can be the man because likely he will be asked to become one from day one in the NFL.
David Carr: The record books still say D. Carr at Fresno state but instead of David — the Texans #1 pick in 2002 — they now read Derek. A three year starter that possesses the same powerful arm and fluid athleticism as his brother, Derek helped return Fresno State to its place as potential BCS buster and became a legitimate NFL prospect.
While Fresno State failed to make a BCS Bowl game last year, Carr led them to an impressive 12-2 season winning the Mountain West championship. More impressive than the team’s record were Carr’s stats: over 5,000 yards, 50 touchdowns and 68% completions.
Boasting an impressing arm and quick feet Carr has some serious potential at the NFL level. But he displayed a worrying inability to handle pressure and questionable decision making when things went wrong.
Strengths: Big arm with 60+ yard range, ball explodes off his hand, can make every throw in the book, accurate passer especially deep, mobile quarterback with some elusiveness, 3 year starter at Fresno State and has NFL bloodlines.
Weaknesses: Crumbles under pressure, decision making and accuracy fall off when defenders close ing, lacks the demeanor/toughness to hang in the pocket, played at a smaller school in Fresno State and played exclusively out of the shotgun in a spread offense.
Overall: Like a lot of college quarterbacks that come from spread systems, Carr must be judged through a different lens. First off you can throw his stats out the window as numerous bubble screens and other quick passes that are more or less glorified running plays inflated them.
Secondly and more importantly, Carr operated exclusively out of the shotgun and in a one-read system the majority of the time. This inexperience in a pro style offense is worrying as NFL defense are adept at taking away an offenses first option and forcing quarterbacks to make toggle through their reads.
More worrying for Carr is how he unravels under pressure. Although he didn’t face it often in the quick firing spread offense, when defenders were able to ‘dirty’ Carr’s pocket, every aspect of his game went downhill. This was painfully obvious against USC in his final game, when the Trojan’s blitzed relentlessly and Carr was unable to cope.
Still with his arm and quarterback bloodline, some team will take a chance early in the 1st round on Carr. Vertical offenses like Minnesota or Cleveland would be an ideal fit where Carr could use his huge arm to stretch the field.
Jimmy Garoppolo: Every year a small school quarterback rises up the draft boards after a strong Senior Bowl or Shrine Game. This year that quarterback is Jimmy Garoppolo.
Hailing from the FCS Eastern Illinois Panthers, Garoppolo wowed scouts in Mobile, AL at the Senior Bowl and has built on that momentum with a series of strong workouts. Garoppolo reminds a bunch of scouts of fellow Eastern Illinois alum Tony Romo with his quick release, solid footwork and ability to improvise.
Still he raises the same question that all other small school quarterbacks must face: can he make the massive jump from FCS football to the NFL?
Strengths: Lightening quick release, good upper body mechanics, mean pump fake, accurate passer, proven ability to toggle through progressions, has good mobility, started 45 games in college, has good confidence/leadership, seemingly always under control and has a short memory of bad plays.
Weaknesses: Limited arm strength, can’t fire the ball outside the numbers, is mobile but can’t threaten a defense with his legs, gets ‘happy feet’ in the pocket, can struggle under pressure, sees defenders that aren’t there and played at the FCS level.
Overall: Garoppolo is a while away from impacting an NFL team. He will need a while to adjust to the speed of the game, adapt to a more pro style offense and polish his footwork/technique.
Still, Garoppolo showed enough at Eastern Illinois and in the pre-draft process to garner a 2nd round draft pick. He has real potential with his quick release and he has some attributes that you can’t teach: confidence and the ability to improvise.
Hopefully whoever drafts Garoppolo will have a situation where he can sit and learn behind an established veteran. Teams like the Bucs or Jags could be in play for Garoppolo’s services if they pass on a quarterback with their first selection.
Final Thoughts: There was a lot of hype early on surrounding this year’s quarterback class with a seemingly franchise quarterback in Brigdewater and a wildcard in Manziel.
Unsurprisingly things changed drastically since then and now and have raised more questions than answers. There isn’t a clear cut number one pick and every quarterback has some serious hurdles to overcome to be an NFL quarterback.
Those uncertainties are balanced by the potential of this year’s class. And with the importance of the quarterback position, expect multiple teams to select a quarterback early, betting that their young quarterback can fulfill his potential.
Full Quarterback Breakdowns